Steven Spielberg is one busy man, given the fact that he spends his days working on two films a year, allowing him to make one fluffy happy flick for lighter audiences and then one much darker and more serious film for the Academy audience.
This has worked out quite well for him as he does have a few Oscars under his belt and many major blockbusters as well. For instance think of 1993 when Jurassic Park became a family classic while at the same time Schindler’s List became one of the best known movies of all time.
This year Spielberg offered audiences TinTin first to put a carefree smile on their face, but now he is striking at viewers’ heartstrings with the very serious War Horse that is enough to draw tears even out of the most hardened cinema goers. For Spielberg, choosing to tackle a film that deals with war is not out of nature, in fact, it is the backdrop he uses to create so many serious films because everything about war is high key drama.
Just take a look at his previous works which include Saving Private Ryan, Schindler’s List, and Empire of the Sun for proof. However, if you can believe it, the tone of his latest triumph is even darker since it takes place during World War I which is still considered the ‘war to end all wars’ seeing as it brought to end the chivalry and gentleman honours during wartime, freplacing them with merciless battles and modern weaponry.
The emotion behind this wear is clearly seen in a scene where Tom Hiddleston as a British cavalry officer knots his brow when he is told to sneak up on the German troops, but you see it even more clearly when the charge actually happens and the horses and riders are quickly destroyed by machine guns.
Those who are familiar with the classic films will quickly recognise Spielberg’s slow capture of the carnage as reminiscent of Gone With the Wind, when Scarlett walks through the Confederate soldiers laying wounded on the ground. This is not a copycat endeavour, as Spielberg intentionally chooses to shoot this way in order to cast an appreciative nod towards the Old Hollywood style.
Much of the film is old fashioned in this way including the beginning scenes on a farm in Devon so that the sense of loss is felt even stronger by the end of the film. The main problem is that by the end of the film all of these clever tricks do not really make you feel as poignantly sad as Spielberg would like you to.
One thing all of his films have in common is that most of the time you feel sucker punched when you walk out of the theatre, however, War Horse never seems to reach that conclusion. It does offer plenty with spectacular shooting, and strong acting performances, but it never seems to really develop a principle that at the end will stick with viewers.
The flimsy backbone of the film is most likely to blame as it is based on the premise of a young boy who loves his horse which is then taken off to war. The film opens with the young boy watching the foal being born and his complete obsession with the animal begins, and when it is taken away, he too takes off with the pledge that he will find his horse.
Therefore, when he actually succeeds in doing this, it almost takes away from the savages of the war. In other words, you cannot have a happy ending and a melancholy war film because in war, things simply never work out so well.