A famous General gets the treatment in movie #23 in the World War II Marathon!
Screenplay By: Francis Ford Coppola & Edmund H. North
Directed By: Franklin J. Schaffner
I’m thinking that maybe I should preface this review with a little background info regarding myself and General Patton. I don’t like him, it’s that simple, and I have especially always had issue with the way that most American historians choose to embellish and aggrandize his actions in life. I recognize how skilled of a tactician he was, but I also see through a lot of the bullshit and get a clear picture of a man completely concerned with his own image and using public opinion to appear greater than he actually was. Again, I don’t fault him for this, a man has to do what a man has to do after all, but that doesn’t mean I have to like him or the historical inaccuracies that dot his career.
Now that my “General Patton is a wanker,” speech is out of the way let’s delve into the film Patton. I was surprised to find that Patton is such a highly regarded film, as I watched I failed to see anything that would cause it to leap beyond your standard biopic with a biased slant. I’m not knocking Patton completely, as far as showing the tale and will of one man goes it’s certainly a well made film. I’m also sure that a lot of folks were fascinated with seeing General Patton on the big screen and were entranced by the exploits of his life. I was certainly enamored with certain aspects of Patton, but I can’t say that I was ever drawn in to the point where I needed to get to the next frame of the film or see what the good General was up to now.
One cinematic aspect that did catch my eye throughout the film was the excellent framing of General Patton. Most shots of him began either from a long or medium shot only to zoom in for a close-up, spatially the viewer is always put into the frame of mind that General Patton is larger than anything else around him. I was also quite taken by the battle scenes that were scattered throughout Patton, none of them were of the epic variety, but in their simple and straight forward nature they matched the subject of the biopic as well as the war itself.
Of course no discussion of Patton can exist without at least mentioning the performance of George C. Scott as the General. He gives a great performance no doubt, there wasn’t a second where I thought, “This is an actor on screen, this isn’t the General.” I didn’t, however, find Scott’s performance to be a transcendent thing like so many others have. It was great, he got the General down pat, but there wasn’t enough around him to really drive the performance to the next level.
Outside of Patton falling into the usual biopic pitfalls, in this case you can also include biased biopic pitfalls in its shortcomings, one thing that began to bug me about Patton as it rolled along was how polished it was. I know what you’re thinking, “Bill, it’s a movie, it’s supposed to be polished and professional looking, no?” There is truth in that statement, but at the same time it’s important that a movie never crosses the line into too polished or professional looking, and Patton crossed said line on too many occasions. The best example of this is near the end of the movie where after a tank battle every body is meticulously laid out and it looks clearly like a movie being filmed as opposed to a real battlefield.
If Patton manages to draw you in and captivate you then undoubtedly you will enjoy it a lot more than I did. As the end credits rolled I found the film leaving me with next to nothing to think about after a rather hollow film watching experience. There was certainly a fair bit of craft on display during Patton’s near three hour run time, perhaps too much craft in certain places, but I found the movie lacking in any emotional or content driven pull. I wanted the film to grab me and scream, “Pay attention, this is something you want to watch,” but it never did and thus I was left with a movie I never really felt involved in. Your mileage with Patton may vary, but for my money it is a good biopic and no more than that.