Monday, January 23, 2012

Short Take: "War Horse" and "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy"

We get it, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is trying to show us how spying was done in the pre-internet, pre-GPS days, but few espionage thrillers have ever felt as downtrodden and well, lacking in thrills as Tomas Alfredson's adaptation of John LeCarré's novel. Gary Oldman stars as the iconic George Smiley, a British intelligence agent whose methods are as laconic as the underrated actor's ability to insert himself so effortlessly into all his characters.
With extreme attention to detail and an earthy color palette - as well as stylized 70s camera moves - by DP Hoyte Van Hoytema, the film concentrates enough on the surroundings and period details, that it forgets that there's a story to be told, and more importantly as it should be in most spy films, there is a mystery to be solved.
In this case the British suspect there is a Communist mole in their organization, but ask anyone how they solve this and most will come to realize that at some point the movie lost their attention. Its execution is admirable but unless Alfredson was trying to make a point about the dullness of bureaucracy, or deglam crime as David Fincher expertly did in his masterful Zodiac, which he certainly doesn't seem to be doing, the film turns out to be an exercise in dullness in which elegant British actors are killed or double crossed while dressed in uninteresting khaki tones.

Out of all the popular directors from his generation, all of whom claim to be devoted cinephiles, Steven Spielberg seems to be the one who cultivated the most middlebrow taste. If not, ask yourself why of all John Ford's films, he had to choose the tepid How Green Was My Valley as his point of reference for War Horse?
There is nothing wrong with him liking Valley per se but to choose one of Ford's most inferior, albeit award winning, works is the equivalent of being an opera singer and doing Christina Aguilera covers. With that said, War Horse desperately tries to recreate what once was Hollywood's way of filmmaking: interior sets, excessive melodrama and strong family values. Spielberg is either paying tribute to the least challenging productions of an era or writing a guidebook on how to win Academy Awards.
Everything in War Horse feels like it belongs in a different era, and more often than not, it should've stayed there. What once was sweeping, now is obscenely manipulative and as a postmodernist exercise the film doesn't have much to say about the current world.
Human characters are perhaps unnecessary as the movie follows the title horse, named Joey, as he goes from owner to owner, surviving WWI in the process. Because we are asked to devote our attention to an animal, the film gets away with complex character development and tends to rely too much on just how adorable we find Joey. The horse, like some sort of Jesus or Forrest Gump, changes the lives of everyone he touches, which more often than not results in unintentional comedy.
It's truly sad to see actors like Mullan and Arestrup at the service of an equine but by the time when Watson is forced to do her frumpiest Jane Darwell impression, the film reaches new lows in how it so cynically tries to squeeze tears out of its audience.
War Horse should've inspired the old fashioned adjective "jolly", instead it goes all out on the preposterous "mush".

Grades
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy **
War Horse *

1 comment:

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

Sometimes I think you're as pretentious as I, and then you post a tepid (ahem) response to TTSS and I remember that you're the fun one.

It's so weird about War Horse, I mean ... I just can't, the familial strife, the animal love, the mawkishness, but I would not deny that it's beautifully presented (albeit with an ATROCIOUSLY ingratiating score) which makes me think it at least deserves a 2.