Thursday, 27 December 2012

Paths of Glory (1957)

Paths of Glory,1957,USA
Director: Stanley Kubrick
Stars: Kirk Douglas, Ralph Meeker & George Macready
''Too much has happened. Someone's got to be hurt. The only question is who. General Mireau's assault on the Ant Hill failed. His order to fire on his own troops was refused. But his attempt to murder three innocent men to protect his own reputation will be prevented by the General Staff.''

Film #102 of the December Project

I first saw 'Paths of Glory' a few years back and thought it was a absolute masterpiece, I have since put it amongst my favorite films of all time, but I have only seen the film once due to the fact that I didn't want to ruin the incredible memories I had of the film. I purchased the DVD back in January and have I honestly been fighting temptations to watch it ever since, but I decided tonight was the night I would revisit this film and to my utter joy I found my fears were null as I once again experienced Stanley Kubrick's timeless anti - war masterpiece.

During World War I, Soldiers of the French army come under scrutiny after refuse to participate in an impossible order. One soldier from each company is chosen for execution due to portraying Cowardice in the face of the enemy.

I don't believe there is a film that captures the corruption and hypocrisy of war better than 'Paths of Glory'. Kubrick's film is a devastating portrayal of the ruthless men behind the scenes and how they will stop at nothing to gain victory, even if that means sacrificing their own men.Through characters such as General Mireau and General George Broulard we see the deceitful side of war and actions full of blackmail and hate towards people of their own side. War is a horrifying thing to begin with, but to see vicious hate filled acts within one army is unspeakable, as Colonel Dax states ''there are times that I'm ashamed to be a member of the human race and this is one such occasion.''

War was a reoccurring theme for Kubrick throughout his career, creating three incredible war films which all look at war in different ways. 'Dr Strangelove' is satirical and 'Full Metal Jacket' focuses on how war can change a man, but it is 'Paths of Glory' that seems Kubrick's most determined and haunting portrayal of combat. Kubrick's disagreement with the acts of war are highly present in this film and it is very firmly anti-war. I don't think there is a filmmaker who could better capture war than Kubrick and through these three masterpieces you get the ultimate war film experience.

The film features many moments that are heartwrenching and emotionally provocative. Scenes such as the corrupted trial,  lieutenant Roge's betrayal, the scenes featuring the 'Guilty' soldiers preparing for their demise and Dax's unforgettable final confrontation with the General, which features that incredible exchange ''You bring charges against General Mireau, so I insist that he answer them. Wherein have I done wrong?'' ''Because you don't know the answer to that question. I pity you.'' These are moments that will be forever burned into my memory and ones that I think about constantly. All these seem to be understandably overshadowed by the beautiful climax, which I believe is one of the greatest endings in film history. The young German girl, portrayed by Kubrick's future wife Christiane Harlan, is in a bar standing upon a stage in front of many rambunctious French soldiers, she begins to sing and every soldier in the room becomes silent and there is not a dry in the house,truly an unforgettable cinematic moment that displays hope in the face of extreme adversity.

Being a Stanley Kubrick film, 'Paths of Glory' is technically stunning. Kubrick's direction is as perfect and involving as ever and he enlists many of his famous long takes throughout the film, including a couple that take us through the trenches. The scene in which the soldiers attempt to take Ant Hill, is probably the most realistic combat scene I have ever witnessed, we focus on Dax as his leads his soldiers deep into no mans land, an incredibly filmed scene that has to rank amongst the greatest in war film history.

The performances in this film are all fantastic. Kirk Douglas is brilliant as Colonel Dax and is well supported by an incredible cast consisting of George Macready, Ralph Meeker, Adolphe Menjou, Richard Anderson and character actor Joe Turkel who also stared in Kubrick's 'The Killing' a year prior, and most famously as Lloyd the ghostly bartender in 'The Shining'.

'Paths of Glory' is a cinematic triumph. A Perfectly made film that will throw you through a whirlwind of emotions. Its incredible to think that an 83 minute film can give you such a comprehensive experience of the first World War, but Kubrick does it, and that's just one of the reasons I idolize him so much. A masterpiece.


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