1 October 2008 | tonellinon
The movie is a character study
I found this movie compelling to watch. Selecting only the final days of its subject's life, it is not really a biopic. There is no plot--the life of any person seldom has a plot. I call it a character study, probably the least spectacular of all dramas. What character studies lack in spectacle, they're supposed to make up for with a fascinating portrait of the subject's personality--like looking at a great oil painting of a famous person--except that it's a motion picture. Having said that, I found this film to be remarkably well done and could have been better were it not budgeted as a TV movie. I think the film's theme (rather than plot) is how a person handles his own impending death. When the subject is General Patton, a first-class soldier and real hero, a man who always wanted to die by the last bullet of the last battle of the last war of his life, and the circumstances of his dying is by a fender-bender that breaks his neck and renders him an invalid for 12 days, a recipe for a real dramatic character study emerges. How a man like Patton handled the absurdity of his transition to death is the human question that permeates the whole movie. It starts off by his return to the States for the first time since November 1942. He has his wife on his arm, and the couple is surrounded by reporters. The reporters demonstrate that, whether pro or con, Patton is a legend and he makes good copy. Beatrice at his side reminds us that he was also a family man--and a good one--a man who compliments his wife publicly. The film is filled with reminiscing flashbacks which shows two things: that Beatrice was a good match for Patton, particularly the scene where she drives the tank prototype, at her husband's request, to demonstrate the ease with which it can be driven before the Army brass; a man who is sorely tempted to see no more point to continue living is tugged one way by memories (thus, acknowledgment) of having lived a good life and tugged another way to put up a cheerful front in facing the absurd, anticlimactic present. Beatrice realizes this in a scene with General "Hap" Gay in a darkened hospital room where she reveals her understanding that her husband has everyone fooled by his charm and bravado--but her husband is slipping and he knows it. The movie shows that Patton's heroism was not an act put on for his soldiers or for the public or the press--nor was it self-delusion--his heroism ran deep--steeped as he was in his knowledge of history, his own ancestry and family, the film shows that the dying, invalid Patton was heroic in another way: he was kind and generous to his doctors and their staff; he tried greatly to spare his wife any unnecessary hurt. Even in his attitudes towards the de-Nazification policy--is not driven by any political motive. No real warrior takes any pleasure in seeing a vanquished people suffer after they've been disarmed. Given his upbringing and values he had demonstrated all his life, I believe that Patton saw his job as military governor of Bavaria to help the Bavarian people survive the winter and to get back on their feet. Even if he were wrong about de-Nazification, the film is interested in the character that drove the man. His attitude towards the Soviets was probably also driven by what he saw as very cruel and heartless conduct by the Soviet forces against the conquered German population. This movie is not for everyone. It will not entertain anyone who needs real spectacle to remain entertained. The natural audience for this kind of movie is a more mature--or emotionally deep--audience.