Sunday, August 3, 2008

PATTON (Franklin J. Scaffner, 1970, USA) George C. Scott’s bravura performance channels the deified ghost of PATTON: he actually seems possessed by the reincarnated spirit of the legendary general. The film is not interested in examining Patton as a complex human being; there are no family scenes, conversations with loved ones, or any exposition concerning his life outside of the military. The entire film concerns itself with the narcissistic legend, not war’s brutal reality. It is a subtle performance because Scott is still able to bring an empathetic human element to a caricature, to breathe life into the rigid stone bust of an icon. The film begins with adrenaline pumping nationalistic machismo, a glorified warmongering speech to his troops as they prepare to face the Axis for the first time. A huge American flag hangs behind him, showing that the country is always larger than the single man…even Patton. Obviously, this in dire contrast to Hitler and his Fascist regime, where the man is the country: this theme is referenced near the film’s end. The screenplay touches upon important aspects of Patton’s wartime record, both good and bad: his success at El Guettar, the invasion of Sicily, his egomaniacal desires at the cost of precious lives, the public slapping of a traumatized soldier, his miraculous race to Bastogne, and his controversial remarks about Russia after the German surrender. The film’s major fault is that it reinforces the legend at the cost of fact; it’s a shallow reflection of the true person that lurks beneath a chest full of medals. We see Patton through his own eyes as he looks in the mirror; we need to discover the private man who stares back. The bloodless war scenes fail to capture the reality of war and rely on the deafening shriek of tanks and bombs like aural shrapnel. Modern tanks, planes, jeeps, and trucks are inauthentic simulacra that diffuse the narrative energy. The excellent final scene shows the tired general walking his dog, and the camera makes him physically diminish and become insubstantial, as the windmill’s shadow falls upon this tiny figure. Coppola believes Patton was born for war and, like King Arthur, will one day rise again to save the world. (B)

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