Friday, December 30, 2011

War Horse

Two Steven Spielberg movies in one week!

War Horse follows a thoroughbred horse named Joey from being purchased at an auction by a poor farmer in a small town in Wales through the mainland during World War I, being passed from one owner to the next. The horse is charmed, and through its good fortune its live is spared many times over. His original owner is a teenaged boy named Albert who loves and cares for him until the war begins and Joey is conscripted into the military.

Among the themes and ideas that Spielberg is exploring in this movie, the one that fascinated me the most is the impact of technology on warfare. We witness this firsthand when nearly the entire English cavalry is gunned down by German machine guns. It reminded me of Akira Kurosawa's Kagemusha, where Kurosawa showed us many evocative shots of horses lying dead or dying in the field of battle.

The horse travels across enemy lines more than once, finding owners and caretakers on both sides, be they English, French, or German. Spielberg doesn't take sides in the war, he only takes Joey's side, and his owners are always humane and kind towards him. Our capacity for kindness towards animals is something that ties all of us together.
I thought War Horse was a very lovely film, sentimental and earnest; Steven Spielberg doing what he does best: pulling on your heartstrings. The cinematography is among Spielberg and Janusz Kaminski's very best, and some of the best I've seen all year. Lots of sprawling John Ford-esque landscapes. The World War I battle sequences are intense and as realistic and evocative as they can be, given the film's bloodless PG-13 rating. John Williams' score may have been the best I've heard by him in years.

The cast is very good, too. Standouts include Jeremy Irvine as Albert, Benedict Cumberbatch and Tom Hiddleston as two English cavalrymen, and Niels Arestrup and Celine Buckens as an old man and his sickly granddaughter who one day find the horse in their windmill. Also, there is this awesome goose that lives on Albert's farm and serves as comic relief, always attacking visitors and running into their house unexpected. I'm hoping Spielberg makes a spinoff War Goose movie.

It was kind of nice to see both sides of Steven Spielberg come out in the same week. The Adventures of Tintin felt like Spielberg just having a good time, and is a lot of fun as a diversion, but War Horse is Spielberg showing that he's still a master of heartfelt, emotional storytelling.

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