The Movie Club

War Horse Wasn’t Corny
Critic vs. critic.
Jan. 9 2012 2:52 PM

The Movie Club

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War Horse wasn’t corny.

Still of Peter Mullan and Jeremy Irvine in War Horse
Still of Peter Mullan and Jeremy Irvine in War Horse

© 2011 - DreamWorks II Distribution Co., LLC.

Dear Dana, Dan, and Michael,

Before we fully launch into 2012, here are my five quick hits that I’m not quite ready to leave behind. It’s been lovely yakking with you all!

1) The cinematography and score of  War Horse. At the screening of War Horse I attended, some of my fellow critics snickered—whinneyed, even—at the vision of Joey the Horse bathed in golden light, like a Renaissance Madonna, as he rested in his stable after performing a miniature miracle. But I love the pure movieness of War Horse—I don’t see it as corny or overcooked. John Williams gives us one of his great scores, at points channeling the quintessentially English beauty of Vaughn Williams’ The Lark Ascending. And I only wish Janusz Kaminski could follow me around, every second of every day, lighting me the way he lit that horse.

2) Maria Djurkovic’s production design in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. Those scratched-up Bakelite phones, the sturdy but ugly metal desk lamps, the orange baffling in the top-secret British Intelligence meeting room: All of it suggests that England in the ‘70s (or this sliver of ‘70s England, anyway) was really just a hair’s breadth away from Eastern Bloc drabness. Perfect, and beautiful in its own right.

3) Dream House. Yes, plot-wise it stunk. Reportedly, Morgan Creek Productions took the picture away from director Jim Sheridan (My Left Foot, In America) and fiddled with it, ostensibly to bring it more in line with what contemporary audiences expect from a horror picture. (Thanks for that, Morgan Creek.) But you don’t even have to look that closely at Dream House to see the ghost of the movie that might have been. Daniel Craig gives a terrific performance as a family man who loses everything; the picture is more a cross between Douglas Sirk and Emily Brontë than a Paranormal Activity-style blockbuster, and how the hell can anyone make money off that? Sadly, these days you can’t.

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4) Viggo Mortensen in A Dangerous Method. Viggo, my Viggo! Mortensen has become a favorite of David Cronenberg’s in recent years, for obvious reasons: His presence can be subtle or big depending on the task at hand. Watching A Dangerous Method, I nearly laughed out loud when I first saw him done up in his trim little Sigmund Freud beard—not because he looked ridiculous but because he looked so right.

5) The blossoming tree at the end of Aki Kaurismäki’s radiant Le Havre. Because sometimes, even when you’re a sadsack Finnish filmmaker, sometimes there’s God so quickly.

Here’s to the year of moviegoing ahead –
Stephanie

Stephanie Zacharek is chief film critic at the Village Voice.

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