Thursday, August 9, 2012

War Horse. A-

I think there's a distinction that needs to be made between manipulation and melodrama, two words that have oft been used when describing Steven Spielberg's War Horse. Melodrama is sensation and exaggeration. Manipulation is controlling the mood of the viewer in ways that do not have to include melodrama. I would say War Horse is definitely manipulative, yet the to call it melodramatic I think demeans the film because it's clear Spielberg wants to steer clear of such a description being labeled on his movie. The movie manipulates through more grand gestures, namely the lavish countryside, the wonderful John Williams score, and the size and scope of the entire production. But the key to this film is that it evades, miraculously, melodrama despite telling a story that's a recipe for operatic tones. All of the performances are nicely controlled, with only a few scenes of trite dialogue. I also found that the horse, though the central character, never becomes anything more than a brave and strong horse. Horse movies are always dangerous because it can be tempting to make the animal almost an object of worship, to make it something other than what it really is in the hope that the audience will fall in love with it. Spielberg isn't interested in this because I think for him the importance of the horse is that it allows for the best of the human spirit to be brought out, as seen when a German and English solider both attempt to rescue it from barbed wire. War Horse has its imperfections-it drags some and that John Williams theme may be used a few too many times-but really it's a film that deserves to be seen, if not for the way in which it handles its story then for the superb craftsmanship on display throughout.

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