28 December 2011

"War Horse" Review

A very well done film. Quite a visual rush -- every frame is like a painting and the English countryside is captured so beautifully. As with many/most of Spielberg's work, the technical aspects of the film are top-notch, second to none. The visual effects were flawlees, but since they were of the sublter nature, I expect they'll go mostly unnoticed. I'm reminded of "A Beautiful Mind" -- which is a visual effects smorgasbord, but since the effects support rather than dictate the film, no one thinks there are any effects.

Unlike "Saving Private Ryan" -- of which "War Horse" is nice, if not true, companion piece to -- Spielberg and his crew manage to make war look cinematic while still taking time to reveal its horrors. It probably helps that World War I is so neglected on film that an incredibly fresh way to show the conflict wasn't as absolutely necessary as it was with "Saving Private Ryan."

A solid score (as per usual) from John Williams -- "Joey's Theme," while not as powerful/memorable as Williams's better themes, has that Williams hummability we've come to expect. I thought some of the beginning music was Mickey-Mousing too much, but as the film progressed it seems that Williams reined it in and let the score complement rather than emphasize the images.

Strong acting throughout, though nothing truly amazing, which is typical of Spielberg films. Emily Watson and Peter Mullan, however, as the parents, stand out for me, but unfortunately there's not much for them to do other than perform to their respective types. Although they do make the most of it. For the most part, character actors were used, so it was nice to see those "I can't think of the name, but I know the face" actors get a chance to shine brighter than usual.

The film is a bit heavy-handed with its main theme (storywise, not musical), but each section of the film is refreshing with how it approaches it, tapping into the various ways we bond and connect with each other. I've seen it written that the film is too sweet, but I didn't have any problems with it. It was honest -- maybe to a fault -- but stayed true to itself throughout. Nothing felt forced or manipulative.

One of the best things about the film is how it showcases an almost forgotten war and its participants, namely, the horses. For most of us, our memories/mind's eye images of war involve tanks, jeeps, and air crafts, though only 100 years ago we used living creatures to aid in our destruction of each other. The film doesn't directly comment on the humanity of using horses in war -- that's not what's it about -- but it does give an opportunity to honor those soldiers who were drafted and forced to leave home to fight in a war they had no idea was going on. They, too, should be remembered for their part and have their place in the Lost Generation.

While it might not be Spielberg's best, it's definitely ranks among his top handful of films. His firm, unflinching direction and command style to enhance the story elevates "War Horse" near the top of must see Spielberg.