'Patton' Review: "Sir, Yes Sir"
After years of meaning to do so I finally got to watch Patton. I’m not sure if I was as convinced of its greatness as many seemed to be, but it’s well-worth checking out. The three hour epic deals with General George S. Patton, known for his curt manner of speaking towards his soldiers and expressing absolutely no sympathy for his enemies. He was also a man willing to die fighting for his country, absolutely fearless against death or his enemies. The movie follows him from his career in North Africa to the end of World War 2.
In some ways, that is the problem of the movie. It attempts to cover a lot of ground and it can make the story seem slightly unfocused, especially at the beginning when we seem to go from one battle to another. It becomes clearer that the film is meant to be a character study of Patton, with the plot concerned with the Allied forces taking down the Axis in the broadest sense. George S. Patton just happens to be our eyes through the conflict, and the catalyst for many victories.
George C. Scott’s performance as Patton is outstanding nailing every aspect of the complex general. Even though Patton comes across as a loud, harsh and brutal man, Scott’s performance also nails his nuances and softer side. Given the many parodies and references to the character that have existed throughout the years, it would’ve been easy to do a one-note performance, but Scott avoids that completely. It gives a complex portrait of a complex man.
On the technical front, the movie looks fantastic. Franklin J. Schaffner’s direction is non-intrusive, using the 2.20:1 aspect ratio gorgeously. There are many beautiful shots and even though the overall movie might feel a bit too polished despite being set in World War 2, but there are moments that still feel very real, with the lens fogging up a bit in winter scenes.
Perhaps the biggest achievement of the film is that even at a lengthy three hours, the film's pace doesn't suffer. It does start off slightly slow, but quickly we’re taken away by how fascinating Patton is as a character. The movie does a great job of allowing the viewer to wonder if it’s honoring or criticizing Patton. The lack of real bloodshed or of any enemy perspective, and even softening of Patton’s penchant for using bad language seems to be a choice of trying to make the movie palatable for wider audiences without getting an R-rating, instead of making a patriotic statement. Perhaps there was an opportunity to make a more complex film, one where Patton’s patriotism and tough nature contrasted against the brutal realities of the war, as it seems like he’s unable to put himself in anyone else’s shoes. But that kind of experience probably would’ve been too much of a bash against Patton, this movie as it is, attempts to paint him sympathetically but it doesn’t try to hide his flaws.
Patton is a good film and worth checking out at least once. It didn’t move me as much as I would have hoped for, but my interest was never lost in its three hours. Scott’s performance is truly something to behold. If you’re interested in World War 2, or have the slightest bit of love for war films, this is a must see.