There's something about "Patton" that hearkens back to the old age of golden classic, epic cinema. It's nothing terribly unique, maybe just Franklin J. Schaffner's style in crafting the war movie. Of maybe it's Francis Ford Coppola's screenplay which introduced a new presence to film that would forever change it. Whatever it is, there's definitely something going on, and it's this undefinable 'good-ness' that both makes it understandable why the movie won 7 Oscars and also why it's a movie that has not stayed in the canon.
"Patton" is probably the least seen war movie, even for all its accolades, most likely because this is not an actual war movie. For the movie's length, the amount of time eaten up by defining the main character and grounding his bizarre antics far outweighs any time spent on the battlefield. War scenes are far and few between, this is not a shock and awe movie like "Apocalypse Now" or "Saving Private Ryan". It does nothing to entice its viewer with mindless action, but then again, this was given at a time when the popular audience did not demand action of this level.
Instead, "Patton" concerns only its main character, played brilliantly by George C. Scott. The film places the general in the middle of a battle and lets his own insecurities and hubrises. His first scene is probably the most iconic when he stands proudly in front of the American flag and the film ogles each of his medal and his posture/demeanor before the gruff voice speaks. It's a commanding voice and not one easily forgotten.
This is probably why the film has been lost from the film rhetoric, because Patton is not exactly a likable figure and he's not quite evil enough (or even close) to be a credible antihero. Instead, like Lawrence, he exists only to be studied as the vehicle for war who seems riddled with contradictions. Yet this is not "Lawrence of Arabia" because Patton does not demand such a level of complexity or of epic scope.
The movie begins as the action heats us from the German army in WWII. Patton, as he lets the viewer know in the middle of the movie, feels inspired or even prophetically purposed by God to be in the army so that he can smite his enemies. We soon get the understanding that Patton has no interest in actually obeying orders, he'd rather just do his own thing. This can be seen when he has not yet received the rank of three-star general...he doesn't really care, he goes ahead and decorates himself with the rank. He has balls, but does he have heart?
What Coppola's screenplay does so well is outline these contradictions in such a way that you feel you are watching a complex man and not a poorly written movie. Patton's aversion and disrespect for the powers that reside over him is coupled with his ironic clinging to the structure of the army itself. The soldiers he commands are never anything less exemplary, because this might be a reflection on him. Yet this adheres to the concept of a power structure so here, the film slyly suggests that Patton may be the biggest hypocrite of all.
One scene sees him shouting about his lack of political savvy to a person, yet what has he been doing if nothing but politics? War strategies and White House discussions could be seen as paralleling each other. Then again, maybe I'm trying to make something out of nothing.
What the film lacks in chutzpah, it makes up for largely due to Scott's performance and Schaffner's direction. It can feel dry, but only in the best possible way.
"Patton" is at times a rough movie, rugged terrain, explosive battles, course dialogue; but beneath it all I think the movie questions what truly makes a good leader. Is it someone who is educated? Fierce? Emotional? Caring? What we are left with is the ability to make our own decision and somehow I came out of the movie respecting Patton but never wanting to ever talk to him. The film's protagonist is rather repulsive in his own ways, yet nothing if not deeply, morbidly fascinating.
"Patton" is a highwire of a film. It's natural, combustive, and intelligent.
Posted by Micah Jones