Friday, March 02, 2012

Small Bites: Standard Operating Procedure, War Horse

Standard Operating Procedure
It is rather remarkable that six years after the well publicized events at Abu Ghraib, Errol Morris’ film can still evoke genuine anger out of the viewer. Standard Operating Procedure is a visually striking film in which Morris incorporates beautiful re-enactments to recount what is considered a huge a black mark on the U.S. military. Fortunately these stylized moments never detract from the main story. The film not only highlights what the tortured prisoners’ endured but also the various levels of military personnel that were aware the events were occurring. The line between what is deemed a criminal act and what is considered standard operating procedure becomes increasingly blurred as the film progresses. The fascinating thing about Standard Operating Procedure is that it not only makes you mad that the events occurred, but you cannot help but feel sad for both the victims and several of the soldiers involved.

War Horse
War Horse is one of the films where I actually thought to myself “I wish I had went to the play instead.” Not that War Horse is a bad film, in fact I enjoyed it a lot more than I thought I would, it is just that for all its technical feats the film’s story felt average at best. Those who know me well, know that I have never been a big fan of horse-centric films. However, in War Horse I found the horse to be the most interesting character. Playing like a series of vignettes linked by one special horse, Steven Spielberg’s film focuses on the friendship between Albert (Jeremy Irvine) and his horse Joey as their lives take different paths because of the war. The casting is great and the war scenes are well shot, but I found that I was not interested in any of the side stories when the horse was not on screen. Besides the two soldiers, from opposite sides, who orchestrate a ceasefire to help the horse, I found that I did not connect emotionally with any of the characters the way Spielberg intends us to. Again, I think the story would be far more interesting watching it unfold on stage rather than on the big screen. As it stands, War Horse is a technically strong film, but most of the characters are rather forgettable. On a final note, how did this film lose in the sound category at last weekend’s Academy Awards? The sound in this film was fantastic.


  1. Completely agree on the Sound Oscar not going to War Horse. It's one of the more objectively-judgeable categories and whether or not you enjoyed the film itself, it's hard to argue with the ingenuity and craft of the sound design.

    I did love War Horse all-round though...

  2. I haven't seen War Horse the movie yet, but the stage production is outstanding. Story aside, the puppeteering of the horses is insanely dead on and the simple sets and minimalistic musical accompaniment (Melanie Doane sings and plays her fiddle and another woman sometimes accompanies her on accordion) really brings that into sharper focus. For the puppeteering alone, I'd see it again. I'm really glad, actually, that I saw the play first. I recommend you make the trek to the Princess of Wales and see it.

  3. Standard Operating Procedure boils my blood. Have you seen Taxi to the Darkside? I thought that was better but still both very important, revealing docs.

  4. @Joe - The scene where the horses are pulling the canons sounded amazing. I talked to a friend who does sound editing for films and television and he thought War Horse should have won as well.

    @dEmon - I definitely want to see the stage play. It is on my list of things to do once the funds free up a bit. Since you saw the play, I am curious to see how you interpret the film.

    @Pete - I have not seen Taxi to the Darkside yet but I will add it to the list of films to check out. I am currently working my way through Errol Morris' canon of work.

  5. I still think to myself that the main crux of the issue with War Horse is that it wants to be a traditional bildungsroman, but it can't completely succeed at being that because you can't make a bildungsroman about a horse because a unless it's a talking horse, you can't really get to know the main character if it's a horse. Technically, it's good (but, egads, the gold in that final scene is a bit ridiculous, no?) and I think it's really fine, but it's not my thing.

    A movie about a boy trying to get his horse back while the war wages? No, just not for me. (Incidentally, I must be one of the few persons who was on board with Hugo winning sound.)

  6. @Andrew - For the coming-of-age angle to work the film would have had to focus on the kid the entire way through. Like you said, you really cannot get that same type of arc from a horse. The problem is the kid pretty much disappears for a good bulk of the film, yet we are still suppose to care about him in the war.

  7. Nice reviews. Loved everything about Standard Operating Procedure, which is usually the case for Morris films.

    Hated everything about War Horse, which is usually not the case for Spielberg films.

  8. @Alex - I think I might revisit Fog of War next. I remember drifting off the first time I watched it. More a result of me being tired than a knock on the film.


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