Patton (1970)

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Patton (1970) tells the story of the controversial General George S. Patton jr.

I must confess that I am a bit indifferent towards war themed films. It’s just not a subject I feel strongly about, but that doesn’t mean I can’t respect them. After all, I find Apocalypse Now a masterpiece, and I think The Pianist should have won best picture over Chicago. I mean, I get the message they’re trying to convey, especially about how war dehumanizes people, the loss of life, the tragic consequences etc. But the thing is, I just find war movies too depressing and some can get way too horrifically violent (Saving Private Ryan).

Of course, I went into Patton trying to be as objective as I could, although I’d be lying if I said I was very excited to watch it. It seems to be one of those forgotten best picture winners, and I can sort of understand why, especially in comparison to some of the other winners from this decade. Still, there are some positive aspects to this film that I really liked, and one of it is George C. Scott’s amazing Oscar-winning performance in the title role. I really can’t decide whether he or Jack Nicholson deserved the Oscar more, because both are fantastic performances. George C. Scott is one of my favourite actors. He’s really a true master of the craft, and I thought he was damn brilliant in The Hustler and Anatomy of a Murder. Over here, his Patton is such a magnetic presence that you are simply engaged by every movement he makes and every thing he says, right from the iconic American flag monologue at the opening of the film. He portrays Patton as an over-idealistic general, who fights because of the glory that he yearns, rather than fighting out of loyalty for his country. It’s because of this desire for glory that he pushes his men to their extremes, enforcing high discipline standards and in turn garnering a lot of hatred towards himself. I will never forget the famous scene where he slaps a private who was on the verge of breakdown. It was mind blowing to see how easily he transited from being a somewhat “fatherly” figure to the wounded soldiers to a violent monster towards the “cowardly” soldier. He also effectively shows Patton’s flaws, such as his inappropriate and offensive remarks, and his self-admitted “diva” behavior. Yet, Patton isn’t exactly the tough guy that he makes himself out to be either. The disappointment and hurt when he was passed over for a promotion was also memorable because of how it was visible in his eyes despite him not saying anything about it. It’s a complex character that was portrayed effortless by a truly great actor.

Well other than that, I can’t say anything else about the film really impressed me. The technical aspects are fantastic I guess, especially for its time. The battlefield scenes are very realistic and well shot, even by today’s standards.

I find it a bit repetitive as a whole, and if it weren’t for Scott’s performance I don’t think I would have cared too much about it. I feel that the scenes only serve to reinforce Patton’s character and mentality to me. Yes, there are a lot of battles, but I couldn’t care less about their battle plans and strategies, which were discussed quite often. The scenes with the German soldiers are extremely pointless, in my humble opinion. They serve no purpose other than to summarize Patton’s traits and characteristics, which I could have so done myself without needing them to stand around a photo of him and discussing his personality. The rest of the actors are fine though, but their performances are merely serviceable, even the great Karl Malden.

Still, the film is highly watchable and I don’t think I would actually mind watching again if I had to (one of my “judging” criteria). It’s a respectable effort, with a brilliant central performance that seems to be the only thing most people remember about it nowadays. 3.5/5.

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