Friday, December 30, 2011
Two rather short reviews to end the year with (Sherlock Holmes, War Horse)
Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows
The strength of the Sherlock Holmes films so far has been the friendship between Holmes and Watson. Jude Law and Robert Downey Jr. have great chemistry together and Downey is always a fun actor to watch on screen. I will watch any movie featuring him, I can't remember a bad performance from him in any movie. In bad movies, he steals the show. In great movies, he steals the show. Now that he's the A-list actor he's always deserved to be, it's his show.
And the Robert Downey Jr. Show: A Game of Shadows works when it's Downey doing his thing. He's such a vibrant actor on screen that nobody cares that he's an American playing a famous English detective. His English accent is good enough so it doesn't matter anyway. The actual story and premise in these Sherlock Holmes films don't really matter. The mystery Holmes and Watson are supposed to solve isn't that titillating. In fact, I would say the majority of Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows is pretty run-of-the-mill.
You add that with Guy Ritchie's modern filmmaking style and you have an odd blend of an old school detective story with a new school style. Sometimes it works, sometimes you just want the slow motion action scenes to STOP. I mean, how many slow motion action sequences can there be in a movie? A lot, apparently.
You add that with Jared Harris's shockingly bland villain character and you have a pretty hollow movie. When the movie's done, you're still entertained because of the two male leads. They are still able to make this movie fun. But for what actually happens in the movie? Completely forgettable. See the movie for Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law. Don't expect much out of the rest of the movie.
I really hate to be that guy, I really do. You know me by now. I'm a pretty positive guy. I'm not a cynical, snarky asshole. I'm not, I swear. But I really disliked War Horse. I truly did.
I know it's going to be nominated for a ton of Oscars, it may win a few. But I call bullshit on this entire movie. It's all sentimentality and no heart. The movie tells you where the sentimental parts are, but it doesn't show you without the accompanying music. There are some really beautiful scenes in this film and yet they feel completely calculated and forced. Part of this problem is the suffocating score by John Williams. From the beginning, the music makes everything feel so precious that you worry you might break the movie if you tried to touch it.
The lead actor, Jeremy Irvine, plays Albert who is the most naive and innocent person on the planet. He instantly falls in love with a horse who he'll name Joey. His father coincidentally buys the horse at an auction for too much money. How will he be able to afford the rent? This horse is too wild to be of any use to this family! What was he thinking? Well he's a drunkard, for one, that's part of the problem. His son, who loves this horse more than anything in the world, promises to train and take care of this horse. You watch him struggle as he teaches this horse to plow and it's really good stuff. But why is there a crowd to watch them plow this horse? I'm pretty sure it's for the sole purpose of embarrassing the poor kid. What assholes. Or, maybe it's to make the success of teaching the horse to plow to be even MORE successful. It's all just kind of ridiculous.
Eventually they have to sell the horse out to the English army for WWI. Capt. Nicholls promises to take care of this horse and Albert ties his father's military flag onto the horse. The military flag unsurprisingly becomes a very important motif in the film. Even when the horse becomes a part of the German military and a young German soldier and his brother come across the horse, the older brother winds up tying the ENGLISH military flag onto his younger brother who is a GERMAN SOLDIER... before the younger brother marches out with the rest of the Germany army. Apparently nobody in the German army that's marching with him recognize the flag. But that was a head-scratcher to me. What a forced motif.
What eventually becomes a very interesting formula: the horse weaving in and out of the lives of a number of difference characters in the film never really feels solidified as you never really get to know any of these characters, except for maybe the little French girl who winds up having the horse in her possession before the German army steals it back.
All of this is treated so preciously though, so remarkably precious that you can never really feel anything real and legitimate in the movie. You feel what the music tells you to feel. Or how Spielberg decides to light a certain scene. It's not like "Drive," where the movie is really only about the style and not the story. But "Drive" is in a genre that allows it to be that stylistically excessive. This is a period WWI movie and there's an actual story in this movie, but it's taken over by the style. This movie is an example where style gets in the way of the story. It feels like an intrusion. The war scenes are excellently filmed, but they should be, it's Spielberg. Still, they are the highlight of this movie. I must admit when you eventually find Albert thrust into the war, the movie finally becomes something. Albert is scared shitless, as he should be of course, but his innocent intensity actually works for the war scenes.
I'm not even gonna spoil the third act for you, but I really want to. The movie gets really ridiculous and incredibly maudlin in the end. You know, though, it really wouldn't have been so bad if the rest of the film wasn't so maudlin as well. It's sentimentality overload. The film almost feels like a parody of other Spielberg films.
The cinematography is gorgeous and there are a lot of gorgeously filmed scenes. Stylistically, the film is a great homage to John Ford and his films, but the film ultimately feels like a poor imitation. And for a Spielberg film to feel like a poor imitation... that's an incredible disappointment.
I recognize I might be of the minority in my evaluation of this film, if you really want to see this movie, don't let me stop you. There are some touching moments in the movie and some beautiful moments. The final scene is as gorgeous as any scene you'll ever see. I don't consider myself a cynic. I like a lot of Spielberg films. War Horse, though, is Spielberg at his most suffocating, thematically and stylistically.