The Bicentennial Production Design - Can we just give a standing ovation to the 1976 Academy for giving the award to a contemporary movie? They had a Western, a period drama about the theatre...
Thursday, January 19, 2012
A quick perusal of my top 100 films can tell you any number of things about me. For starters, that I have an unabashed love for all things Kurosawa. Then again, spending five minutes talking with me about movies could easily tell you that one. However, if you were to dig a little deeper. To seek out the connections and overlaps between many of the relating films, one constant should become entirely evident. I love me some good ol' fashion epics.
Throw a group of characters together, stretch their journey through life and war over two and half plus hours and low and behold, I'll be waiting at the end hands ready in applause position. So imagine my excitement when I found out that Spielberg was set to deliver such an experience. Let alone one covering one of the most oft ignored and yet still powerful wars in history, World War I.
From the sweeping landscapes of old English farm land to the mud enriched, rat infested, world of trench warfare, War Horse takes us on the kind of journey one might imagine would be found in the likes of a Disney film grown up. Joey, our titular horse, whose journey through a war with which he had nothing to do is sentimental to the highest degree, and yet at the same time strikes subtle and yet resonating chords on the true nature of war.
War Horse boasts what I might argue is some of Spielberg's finest directing moments in over half a decade. Not least of which is found in Spielberg's craft at creating a violent war film without much of the violence. In a way that would make Pulp Fiction era Tarantino proud, Spielberg creates graphic violence through carefully place camera movements. The substitution of imagery for actual bloodshed is a particularly nice decision - as evident in the riderless horses in one early battle sequence. This decision presents something I've been asking Hollywood to deliver for years - intensity without blatancy.
Of course for a generation like myself which has been born and raised on that graphical conclusion to events, these might leave some wanting. But I would like to hope that deep down one can admire the craft in coordinating and filming such scenes.
Still, where War Horse succeeds in visual poetry, it falters in a revolving cast of characters. Like many epics, War Horse deals with a wide array of characters coming and going, and as such the time for whole and complete character building is often left to the cutting room floor. Take for example Captain Nicholls and Major Stewart, played by the equally brilliant Tom Hiddleston and Benedict Cumberbatch respectively, who give off so much charisma in their short screen time that they still leave you longing for their return. Not to mention the sadly underused Eddie Marsan in the generally thankless role of Sgt. Fry towards the film's climax.
So in substitute for the revolving characters we are effectively given human bookends to Joey's journey. In this we find ourselves with Albert (Jeremy Irvine). The young, poor farm hand son of a perpetually drunken father (Peter Mullan) and fiery mother (Emily Watson). Albert provides much of the necessary scenes which help Joey build the skill set he needs to survive so many of the sequences he deals with in war. At the same time, Albert is also given a journey of his own to survive. Including a thrilling battle sequence - by far the film's most violent - as he seeks out his long embattled friend, Joey.
The rest of the cast is a wide assortment of "hey, it's um that guy" talent who deliver time and time again. But no matter what is thrown at us, there is never a doubt that this film is entirely Joey's film. For he is the heart of the matter. He is the life blood through which each character is given a reason for being. The film thrives and falls on the strength of his shoulders. Luckily for us all, he is made of stuff stronger than steel.
OVERALL SCORE: 8.00 / 10
Directed By Steven Spielberg
Screenplay By Lee Hall and Richard Curtis
Novel By Michael Morpurgo