The MichaelVox Movie Review Weblog
Proudly Spewing Unsolicited Film Opinion Online Since 1996
April 4, 2008
English / German
Drama / History / War
Stanley Kubrick [Lolita; Dr. Strangelove; 2001: A Space Odyssey; A Clockwork Orange; Barry Lyndon; The Shining; Full Metal Jacket; Eyes Wide Shut]
Never Has The Screen Thrust So Deeply Into The Guts Of War!
In 1916 in the French trenches, three soldiers are court-martialled for cowardice.
I watched this on the recommendation of David Simon, the creator of THE WIRE (the best television show in the history of the medium) who said in interviews as The Wire was finishing it's five year run, that the film that most closely relates to his feelings about the failure of institutions was Stanley Kubrick's PATHS OF GLORY.
The story takes place in the trenches of World War I. We are following the French side, though all of the actors speak English. In an incredibly lavish estate a higher-ranking general asks a lower-ranking general to take an impenetrable hill on the German side called "The Ant Hill." Then he invites him to stay for lunch in a four-story ballroom. The lower-ranking man knows the hill can't be taken and says as much. The higher-ranking man appeals to the man's vanity, sense of duty, and gets him to agree "as a personal favor."
This general will now tell the next in line, who knows the hill is an impossible goal, but will dutifully follow orders. Kirk Douglas plays Colonel Dax, who seems to be the one man who is both brave and has a brain in his head. The offensive will go horribly wrong and the bumbling general will call for the court martial of 100 men who failed in their mission. The number who actually stand trial is brought down to three, picked completely at random (or to settle a score), tried before a military court where the judge doesn't pay attention and sentenced to a firing squad. "One way to maintain discipline is to shoot a man now and then" says the embarrassed general.
The shots in the trenches are spectacular will all the hallmarks we now know to be Kubrick's. Everything is in focus, there are long tracking shots, Douglas is buffed and heroic.
The dangers of blind allegiance. The lack of connection between the men who follow the orders (muddy, bloody, exhausted) and those who give them (far away from the action, looking at maps rather than actual terrain).
National Film Registry 1992
***^ Videohound's War Movies
#169 Halliwell's Top 1000
#43 IMDB Top 250