I still haven't decided which 2011 movie I like the most, and we still have several strong contenders which haven't opened here yet. While in Memphis last week, we did see three interesting and varying films.
Steven Spielberg, perhaps the most consistently successful (and one of the best) story tellers in film history, has never forgotten what makes a film appear to large, differing audiences. His new film WAR HORSE, based on a young adult novel and a successful play, returns the director to his first love, movies from the golden age of film. Filled with allusions to GONE WITH THE WIND's expressionistic color palatte and John Ford's family classics such as THE QUIET MAN and THE SEARCHERS, WAR HORSE tells a simple story: boy meets horse, boy loses horse, boy brings horse home. Yes, it's LASSIE COME HOME with its lush English country side in that wonderful MGM storybook color. But WAR HORSE is much more. Spielberg creates an idylic world to the eye, but beneath the surface people are struggling to survive, and when World War I rears its ugly head, Albert's father sells Joey, Albert's beloved horse, to the cavalry. The second, and grimmer, part of the film details Joey's struggles on the front and his amazing survival as well as Albert's attempts to find him. You can guess the last part for yourself. Spielberg's filming of soldiers and horses being slaughtered in Germany is reminiscent of his gripping D-Day invasion sequence in SAVING PRIVATE RYAN, but his use of silhouette and layered images of horses and men leaping and falling to their deaths may be even more moving. Spielberg's direction includes warm, gracious performances from his lead players, but the real heart of WAR HORSE are the horses that play the two lead horse characters. He convinces us of their personalities, their devotion, and their hearts.
Perhaps the chilliest film of the year is YOUNG ADULT starring Charlise Theron, a rather cold fish herself, playing a beautiful woman facing 40 with a broken marriage and a career of ghost-writing that is beginning to wither. She's beautiful but broken, sloppy, and lacking in human empathy. In fact, the laughs that come for this comedy are more gasps of disbelief at how callous and mean-spirited her character remains. YOUNG ADULT is character study without a character to care about.
And finally there is MARGIN CALL, yet another Wall Street drama. The superb casts includes Jeremy Irons, Kevin Spacey, and the always dependable Stanley Tucci as members of a firm not so loosely based on Lehman Brothers. We watch as they deliberately try to save their own necks, causing the financial crisis of 2008. I found this much easier to understand than any report I have read. Highly recommended.