Monday, January 16, 2012

War Horse

The film's hero, Joey, gallops at top speed through the horror of the trenches -one of several astounding shots in the gorgeous film, "War Horse".
 ***1/2 out of ****

I think of a short time in my late teens and early twenties when I had gone from being a Spielberg child to a sullen cynic hell-bent on rejecting his then-current movies. Those were the years between Schindler's List and Minority Report when I started perceiving how his films could be so transparent in their manipulation. It was a time when I saw a hero of mine for all his faults and rejected him like a young man might reject his father.

Spielberg is a director who is going to tell you how to feel and leave very little emotion up to the viewer's choice. His movies are emotionally driven and rarely intellectual. He is also not particularly good at comedy. I think I got over these issues during my late twenties when I started to understand everything else about him that makes him one of the greatest directors ever. 

The man is in love with spectacle just as much as he is with people. As a movie fan I believe that every Spielberg movie is worth watching -even the bad ones. When Spielberg fails, there isn't the slightest indication of laziness on his part. He blocks long takes and embraces the naturalism of overlapping dialogue. His movies guarantee a rich quality through the help of Janusz Kaminski (and other great cinematographers) and the enchanting music of John Williams. Outside his work, just watch the guy talk about film. He's very thoughtful. I recently noticed it's almost as fun to watch Spielberg geek out on his favorite movies as Tarantino.

I address the history of my feelings about the director as a preface to this review because War Horse is easily the kind of Spielberg film I would not have liked during the phase I described at the beginning. It is a very manipulative tear-jerker that asks you to view a story of miraculous triumph in a time and setting where nothing of the sort happened... and the character isn't even a human.

The film doesn't seem to owe as much to history as it does to film history. This is Spielberg making a classic war movie. The ending shot made me think of Gone With The Wind. Like Baz Luhrman's Australia, it is an emotionally driven drama that uses a very disturbing period in history to deliver a classic Hollywood-style audience friendly epic that would have been completely embraced if it had been made fifty years ago.  

Movies like this are comfort food for me. I felt love for the Horse in the film as he endured the hardships while changing hands between the different sides who suffered the needless cruelty of World War I and how they were all able to stop for a moment and show this noble creature mercy. It is a film that is full of wishful thinking. This is well-executed escapism which is one of the two biggest reasons I like going to the movies.

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