Patton (1970)
















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.









Score: ★★★½

Carol (2015) (R)


















A lot of times, "Carol" feels like it's trying to replace drama from the golden age of Hollywood. The set design is elegant, the costumes are pressed, the makeup is effortlessly beautiful and I can't help but wonder how much Cate Blanchett's feet must hurt in all the heels that she wears. The movie is combating a history of heteronormative storytelling with a lesbian couple at its center. But in doing this, several problems arise and the space for great drama is created.
Therese Belivet (Rooney Mara) works at a department store in the 1950s and one day a rich, older lady named Carol (Blanchett) walks in and Therese is struck by her. She is beautiful, classy, a little neurotic, and poised. It's not hard to see that Therese is somewhat in awe of this lady.
And then, by happy coincidence, this woman leaves her gloves and Therese returns them as any good person would and a friendship is formed between them, a friendship that will eventually turn into romance.
"Carol" is not a great work of screenwriting or intricate plot details. It makes the correct assumption that we will be more interested in the characters themselves instead of what they're doing. The plot, in this respect, is fairly thin. Not much happens besides the establishment of this time period as hostile towards gay and lesbian couples.
But maybe "Carol" shouldn't be about its plot details, but rather, see it as rewriting romance with the firm argument that everyone should be able to experience love with another person. It's not as political as all that, but its ending makes it very clear that this is a romance, and not a drama.
As Therese begins to become more curious about Carol and the titular character starts to face marital problems with her husband that is converging in an inevitable divorce, the two women take a road trip together to clear their minds.
A great deal of the movie is set-up. We watch Therese in her job, at her apartment, dealing with her boyfriend, getting hit on by his friends, drinking at a bar with friends, eating, etc. etc. It almost begins to feel monotonous but Rooney Mara is a very watchable actress and it never feels too tiresome to the point of boredom.
Because the plot is so relatively thin, the performances have to be great and they are for the most part. There is the assumption that in a movie like this, there will be more crying, more screaming, and more drama; but the emotional level is kept at a pretty low grade, allowing for us to see characters in dignity, rather than a state of perpetual anxiety. This also allows the romance to be all the more intimate and ravishing. Consider a scene in which the ladies apply perfume, Therese places her head in Carol's neck to smell the perfume and they linger just a little longer than they should before turning away from each other and blushing. It's this kind of saccharine intimacy that makes "Carol" succeed.
What doesn't work is some of its more clunky dialogue; but that is forgiven considering Blanchett and Mara's acting.
"Carol" is much less about its titular character and much more about Therese's life. It almost plays like a biopic at times, tracking the doings of Therese as she balances personal life with her career. The movie shifts focus near the end onto Carol only to bring it back to Therese for the ending, which seems appropriate.
And while the last scene may not have the emotional power of other queer films, it does prove "Carol" to be something worth seeing and worth noting, if only for its presence among other works.









Score: ★★★