Jan 1, 2012

REVIEW: War Horse (dir. Spielberg)

So I've seen War Horse now. Not the greatest of Spielberg's films — the central performance by Jeremy Irvine is the weak link here, with his simpering soprano voice and suspiciously smooth complexion; and who knew that 1916 Devon boasted, among its floral and fauna, such a sizeable population of 1,000-watt arc lights — but I was newly wowed by Spielberg's unembarrassable command of the big emotions: barely 20 minutes in, family honor had been restored by aploughing scene, and I was a mess. Compared to the anaemic grip on our emotions exercise by most of the year's films, War Horse exudes a muscular confidence, it's emotional power all the more to be admired given its episodic structure: every 20 minutes a new set of characters are introduced and yet you can feel the gravitational pull of each almost instantaneously. Outstanding were Benedict Cumberpatch as a superbly stiff-spined officer ("be brave!") who could have commanded me to stand to attention on my seat and I would have obeyed; also a beautifully grizzled Niels Arestrop, silver-haired and squashed of feature, with possibly the most beautiful voice in movies right now — all sand and molasses. Richard Curtis's script could have done with a prune — I remain unconvinced that "as if" was common currency in 1916 and "git" should never be used of a man heading into no man's land unless you are scripting an episode of Blackadder — but the film's so-called homage to the technicolor vistas and sweeping emotions of the 1940s and 1950s feels full-throated, unironic, immersive. There's not a wink of self-consciousness to the whole thing: it's as wholesome and stirring as a hymn. B+

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