Monday, June 15, 2015

Patton (1970)

Director: Franklin J. Schaffner
Writers:  Francis Ford Coppola, Edmund H. North, Ladislas Farago, Omar Bradley
Cast:       George C. Scott, Karl Malden, Stephen Young

The film charts the career of controversial American General, George S. Patton. It begins with his operations in North Africa and then proceeds to his landings in Italy and subsequent march to Palermo and Messina where he is shown to be in a egotistical race with British General Montgomery to be the first to reach Messina. He gets chided for his actions and loose tongue there and gets sidelined for sometime. He later has his career high moment after Normandy Landings when he marches his 3rd Army through tough winter weather to hold Bastogne.  After the war he is again sidelined due to his lack of diplomatic skills.

Film is basically a character study on its titular character Patton. He is portrayed as someone who loves war and thinks he is destined to achieve great things during it. He is highly knowledgeable about history and claims that he had been involved in historic battles like Carthaginians war and Neapolitan wars. We can see his colleagues listening uncomfortably to these proclamations. He sees battle fatigue as cowardice which doesn't sit well now but was a common thing for Generals to do back then. Film actually did good for Patton's reputation but I came out of it with ambivalence. Sure, you need bastards like that to win these kind of wars, but in the large scheme of things whatever that happened in Western Front during second world war was child's play compared to what happened in Eastern Front. The whole European landings and the race to Berlin by US and UK was more of an exercise to get as much leverage during their negotiations with Russians and this part of war also featured a huge number of causalities because of this race aspect. Behavior by Patton and Montgomery seems very childish and was as dignified as someone who is trying to beat someone on who gets more during a riot loot. Bastogne was my favorite Band of Brothers episode and so that part of the film was very interesting.

Overall the film is a great watch and is done in an ambiguous way so that you can judge Patton favorably or unfavorably depending on your own biases. I had just about finished Dan Carlin's 24 hours long podcast series on first world war (Blueprint for Armageddon) and I guess I was predisposed to think of Patton as a dickwad. Performance by Geroge C. Scott, whose most memorable other role is the one he did in Dr. Strangelove, is excellent and the production quality of the film is very high. It is close to three hours long but you don't feel the length. It is not a traditional war film with a set-piece battle at the end and doesn't bother to make you understand how World War played out at a macro level in an elaborate fashion. That is fine because when Hollywood does that they invariably tend to portray as if US won the war.

Rating: 4/5