Neil Fox on film: War Horse, Shame, Margin Call

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War Horse

It’s rare you will see me criticise Steven Spielberg, but for me this is a massive misfire from a wonderful director.

A theatrical triumph through imagination, this is a deeply uncinematic film and, more worryingly, is so un-Spielbergian.

The story is a moving one, the tale of a bond between boy and horse that even the Great War cannot break. It should be a resounding spectacle, but it isn’t.

It misleads because its central character is an amazing animal so the film taps into something deeply empathetic inside us, blinding us to a terrible, terrible script that is full of awful dialogue and two-dimensional characters.

We follow the story of Joey the horse and the boy who loves him, Albert, from their life on a struggling Devonshire farm to separation by war, to the possibility of reunion.

The well-cast, but badly cultivated, performances are annoying and it takes an hour to be reminded who directed it as the horses are led into battle for the first time and the drama is elevated by a supreme cinematic eye.

But it doesn’t last and save some nice running horse shots and a superb sequence in No Man’s Land, it’s a tired, trad piece of schlock that will doubtless win hearts and awards but is far from being a rounded piece of work.

Shame

The remarkable Hunger stands as one of, if not the finest, British films of the first decade of this century and one of the most remarkable ever.

Directed by artist Steve McQueen, it was coruscating and phenomenally cinematic.

His follow-up, reuniting him with the peerless Michael Fassbender, is the story of a sex addict in Manhattan and it’s as stylised, as impactful and important as his debut.

Fassbender is a lonely, alienated man, a troubled soul, addicted to sexual release to the point of being barren of intimate feeling.

When his younger sister (Carey Mulligan) arrives to visit he is forced to confront his feelings and addiction.

But as we have already come to expect, McQueen doesn’t do Hollywood happy ending and we are left breathless by a portrait of modern life that is hard, harsh and sad.

Gripping, brilliant film-making.

Margin Call

The current poisonous banking culture we are oppressed by gets its first cinematic examination in this star-studded corporate drama.

Set over 24 hours in the early days of the financial crisis, it is a classic ensemble piece, full of heightened drama and tightrope decisions, at all stages of the corporate ladder.

As with most films of this ilk it doesn’t always work and feels rushed out to make a zeitgeist impact, but it can’t because the script and some of the performances aren’t up to scratch.

Still, it’s good to see the likes of Kevin Spacey, Stanley Tucci, Zachary Quinto and Paul Bettany chewing scenery and playing at financial villainy.