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What can I say about Kubrick that hasn’t already been said before? The guy was a genius. Take away Killer’s Kiss, Fear and Desire and Spartacus and you’ve got a filmography full of masterpieces and films that will forever stand the test of time. Now every great filmmaker has that one film that is responsible for catapulting them to the top, that one film that establishes their career. Scorsese had Mean Streets, PTA had Boogie Nights and Kubrick had Paths of Glory.
Yes siree, this is the film that made people ask who is responsible for making this damn fine picture? It’s also one of his most under-appreciated films, one that didn’t nearly get the love it deserved back then. But I love it, I really do, I’ll even go as far as to say that this is my favorite film directed by him.
Based on the 1935 novel of the same name, the film follows the story of an ill-fated assault on German forces by French soldiers, and the grippling consequences those soldiers face when they refuse to follow through with it.
Paths of Glory is a powerful and visceral look at the physical and emotional torments of war but what sets it apart from other war films is the concise nature of the film. Unlike say…Deer Hunter, there aren’t two very memorable scenes and two and half hours of boring sentimental jibber jabber nor is this film all about the central performance like Born on the Fourth of July. This is a complete film, its effective and it’s to-the-point. Kubrick doesn’t pull any punches, he tells the story he wants to tell, firmly gripping our attention with the legendary opening trench sequence and engaging us only more as the run-time progresses. The first half of the film is about the harrowing effects of war every soldier faces on the field whereas the second half which unfolds like a courtroom drama is about the mental and psychological effects. Both halves are as good as the other, immensely compelling and uniformly great.
The acting is solid across the board but two performances really stand out. First of which is of course, Kirk Douglas’s wonderfully nuanced turn as Colonel Dax. Seeing Douglas in a role as heroic was something of a rarity back then since all his characters had some sort of edge, not with this role though, Dax is a simple man with a great sense of morals who knows his role very well. Needless to say Douglas does a fantastic job. And the second performance that really stands out for me is George Macready’s turn as French Major General Paul Mireau. Macready is utterly convincing as the despicable Frenchman and his brilliant performance is evident by the hate you garner for his character. His portrayal of the French general offended France so much that they banned the film in their country.
And you really must admire Kubrick’s direction too. Kubrick was known to be a perfectionist, sometimes taking ninety takes just to film one scene, simply because it wasn’t the way he envisioned it and his perfectionist ways show very well here because each gorgeously framed shot is integral in telling the story Kubrick wants to tell. Paths of Glory is a masterpiece that also happens to offer an early look at a filmmaker who was going to change cinema forever.