Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Short Film Review: War Horse (2011), Spielberg's Poetic Commentary Against War and Destruction, Review by Payman Akhlaghi

War Horse (2011)
Directed by Steven Spielberg
Music by John Williams
146 mins, English
Original Review by Payman Akhlaghi

In many ways, "War Horse" is Spielberg's very personal and intimate sequel to "Saving Private Ryan" -- intimate, that is, by this director's standards. This has been clearly more than the simple story of an exceptional horse taken to the war front, who ends up trapped in a "no man's land"; or the suspense of whether he'd survive this unfair ordeal and return to the young man who had raised him. (No spoilers here.) It isn't a film about WWI in particular, either, despite the many specific historical and geographic contexts of the narrative. Instead, by underscoring the anthropomorphic aspects of the equine hero, and by establishing the humane bond between him and his young owner, the torments imposed on this innocent being have transcended well into the timeless zone of a poetic commentary on war and destruction. This is further heightened by many direct references to the humanity of the characters, beyond the common stereotypes of good vs. evil, including a significant scene of fraternization between enemy soldiers, which has in fact roots in the actual history of that war.

War Horse follows a traditional dramatic curve, opening on the serenity of British countryside, building up to a stylistically impeccable climactic battle scene, and ending in a convincing denouement. This stands in sharp contrast to the strikingly original structure of Private Ryan, which opened with an astonishing 20-minute long tour-de-force of a battle scene, followed by a long and slow journey with its decidedly meditative rhythm. Still, War Horse offers enough material and space to help the audience contemplate larger conceptual questions posed by the plot. Visit post and discussion on Payman's Facebook Wall

The music by John Williams is unusually scant but as always most beautiful and effective. The cinematography is breathtaking. There is little doubt that the artificial looking visual effects and lighting of the epilogue have been a deliberate attempt at evoking the memory of the stage production.

Some moments, such as the poetically elliptic narrative of the death of the first soldier riding the horse, breathtakingly perfect in concept, style and realization, would remind you that in many respects, Spielberg is quite possibly a director with no equals.

(*) Cinematography: Janusz Kaminski
Edit: Michael Kahn
Based on novel by M Morpurgo, and its stage adaptation by N Stafford
Cast includes: Jeremy Irvine, Emily Watson, Peter Mullen, Niels Arestrop, et al.
© 2012, Payman Akhlaghi. All rights reserved.

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