Friday, October 23, 2009

Paths of Glory

Paths of Glory, 1957
Dir: Stanley Kubrick
October 23, 2009

I don't know if it's the Kirk Douglas effect, but I was not really impressed with this in the overall. Yo, Kirk! You are acting as a French colonel, not a gunslinger in a Western. What's up with the english in this, anyway? It was pretty hard to imagine all those guys as French, but I guess it really doesn't matter in the end if other things are done right. The real problem is with Douglas playing an American every-man with American attitudes stuck in the French Army during WWI. Anytime he (or anybody, for that matter) talks, any semblance of reality is blown to smithereens. There is no tact in any of the acting.

The film sets up a huge Kubrick theme (anti-authority) and yet I wasn't invested in the film at all until the end. The black-and-white cinematography is terrific, and rightly showcases the awful lives men live when they are at war, but the black-and-white story itself is a no real importance. George Macready's ambitious, vengeful general is heavy handed, as is all the mise-en-scene that accompanies him (the dinner parties, the cognac, heck, even his "sofa" at the court-martial). With his voice, he comes across as some entitled Ivy League snob. The obvious counter-point to Douglas. From the very beginning, you are getting banged over the head that Douglas' Col. Dax and Macready's Gen. Mireau are headed for a confrontation. Some of the the minor characters (a sly, political minded Gen. or a drunken, cowardly Lt.) aren't so easy to pin down, but the way they play out most certainly is. Now, again, this isn't necessarily a bad thing, it's just the technique and execution are somewhat lacking, if you ask me.

Kubrick's pessimism is what really shines through. A forthright portrayal of injustice with a tragic ending. As he says, it's not so much an anti-war film as it's an assault on the "ignorance of authority." The battle charge was pretty heart-pounding for me, if only because I'm kinda interested in WWI in that it is severely under-filmed in terms of combat. The technology vastly outpaced the strategy of the times and NO ONE comprehended until millions had died. Seriously, let's charge at Gatling guns like they're horses! Anyway, the hard-eyed camera bores directly into the minds of some of the characters, and the execution scene is gut-wrenching, even if you don't feel bad for the characters portrayed, only for them as human beings. Some of the best acting in the film is done by Ralph Meeker, as a Cpl. who tries to say stern faced in the hours before his death but eventually breaks down in fear and self-pity as the time comes. You can't can't help but feel bitter when they die. But that's about the only emotion I felt at the end, bitter. At the "authority" in the film, and the film itself. It could have been the film that tons of people rave about. It really isn't.

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