The best way to portray a historical figure in a biopic, is to keep the person as true to life as possible. While some historical films try to either indict or romanticize their title character, they should really be focusing on creating a mixture of both good and evil, as humans are three dimensional beings. What makes Patton such a rare breed of film, is its ability to make us root for the leading man, while at the same time, showing his flaws.
George S. Patton is played magnificently here by George C. Scott. Scott is Patton, as well as one of the great driving forces through this war movie. Tough, gruff, and unrelenting, Patton is the epitome of a fine war general. He constantly uses ancient history to determine courses of action, such as when and where to attack the enemy. Patton is also a no-nonsense sort of general. Any soldier who is wounded in battle gets the highest of praises, while those suffering from self-inflicted wounds or battle fatigue are considered cowards of the lowest degree. It is here where Patton’s methods become controversial, leading to criticism and punishment from higher authorities, including the President of the United States. The film doesn’t make any excuses for Patton (those are left up to the general, himself), and makes one realize that it is his faults that make him such an interesting character.
This is a war film that is enhanced by its visuals. Art direction and cinematography here is top notch. From the opening scene (Patton speaking in front of a gigantic US flag), this is a colorfully and imaginatively shot movie. Add to that Franklin J. Schaffner’s Oscar winning direction, and the outcome is a work of art. Schaffner is no stranger to making good cinema; his previous outing was 1968′s Planet of the Apes. It is apparent that this is no film-school project, but rather a labor of love, time, and devotion.
I was not surprised to find out that the screenplay was co-written by Francis Ford Coppola (The Godfather). This is because it is a fantastic one; it has great dialogue and well fleshed out characters. Not only is Patton turned into one of the most multilayered character studies in the history of film, he is also represented by a masterful screenplay.
At nearly three hours long, this film does have its lapses in pace; however, these are far and few, and are usually rectified within minutes. The movie is far tighter than it should be. Additionally, while the war sequences are not up to par with those of modern camera wizardry, they are still exhilarating to watch, featuring some really nice editing and special effects.
Nearly everything about Patton works, especially its direction and acting. Schaffner and his writers show that flawed and complicated characters are ultimately more interesting than two dimensional stereotypes. George C. Scott gives the performance of a lifetime, in one of the greatest biographical portrayals of all time. Even Old Blood and Guts himself would have been proud.