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Paths of Glory

Paths of Glory

Stanley Kubrick’s Paths of Glory is ending its two-week run at NYC’s Film Forum tomorrow (assuming it doesn’t elbow out that Hymn to the Enduring Spirit of Art for the bluehair crowd, Ballets Russes), and if you haven’t seen the thing yet, you should really give it a go. I’ll spare you a blizzard of quantifying adjectives or the oft-repeated canard “as relevant today as ever”—the sort of fallback journalistic banality that mostly encourages over-simplified historical compression (“Bush=Hitler,” “Algiers=Iraq”). But this is capital filmmaking, and Kubrick’s often quibbled-with perfectionism has created something close to perfect here. The movie’s death-driven structure is clean and complete as a classical equation worked out a millennia ago, but that rigor creates compelling friction against the hoarse, passionate outrage of Kirk Douglas and the ill-fated soldiers he tries to protect from a scapegoating military tribunal: Brooklyn boys Joe Turkel and Timothy Carey (who seems to be in a different performance every time he’s on-screen), and quintessential mensch Ralph Meeker, together the most all-American batch of movie Frenchmen you’ll ever meet. Universal, ever-relevant, sure; but it’s the squalid specificity of the casualties that gives Paths its emotional heft, and lays the foundation for that final, non-sequiter sentimental song from a captured fräulein (the future Mrs. Kubrick) to resonate with the simple, smothering sense of what it is we lose a war.

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