Title: War Horse
What Is It Good For? Almost absolutely nothing, unless you're desperate for a terribly clichéd, family-friendly movie about one of the bloodiest wars in human history.
Rating Using Random Objects Relevant To The Film: One Big Bertha out of five.
Tagline: "Separated by war. Tested by battle. Bound by friendship."
Better Tagline: "A horse is a horse, of course, of course. And no one can fight with a horse of course. That is, of course, unless the horse is the famous...War Horse."
Brief Plot Synopsis Handsome beast of burden takes us on a horse's-eye view of the European theater in WWI. I can't wait for the Universal Studios theme park ride.
Not So Brief Plot Synopsis: Young Albert (Jeremy Irvine) becomes attached to the colt his drunken father (Peter Mullan) buys to spite his vindictive landlord (David Thewlis), naming him "Joey" and training him to plow their rocky land even though the horse is part thoroughbred. When a storm wipes out the family's turnip crop, Dad sells Joey to Captain Nicholls (Tom Hiddleston) of the British Army, who's mobilizing to fight Germany in World War I. From there, Joey finds himself ranging across the Continent until Albert is old enough to enlist, ending up in the Second Battle of the Somme.
"Critical" Analysis: Perhaps it's a natural consequence of aging, but Spielberg's been increasingly susceptible to sentimentality in recent years. As he comes up on the formidable occasion of directing his 50th feature film, he's shown either an uncanny ability to make family films or a disquieting tendency to take the easy road.
Take the end of War of the Worlds. Not only were Cruise's in-laws (and their suburban brownstone) completely unscathed, but his troubled son (who sprinted over a hill to almost certain death in order to do battle with the aliens) also showed up none the worse for wear.
There are exceptions. But even his "harder" films, like Saving Private Ryan and Schindler's List, took the foot off the pedal at times. In the former, did we ever really fear for that little girl Caparzo picked up in the French village (Caparzo himself, on the other hand...)? And while some could argue showing the red dress as the only color in the latter was much more powerful than actually portraying her demise, one could just as easily argue the opposite.
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War Horse is based on the children's story of the same name by Michael Murpurgo, making it more or less a cinematic primer on nation-state conflict for kids. And that's all fine, but it's a hell of a step back for the director that put some of the most harrowing battlefield imagery ever seen on film. It also manages to be a slavish throwback to period pieces of the '30s and '40s, and cinematographer Janusz Kaminski should dedicate any resulting accolades to Gone with the Wind's David O. Selznick and Ernest Haller (the final scene might as well be subtitled "I'll never eat that shitty Devonshire hay again").
Look, as one of the most critically acclaimed/financially successful directors of all time, Spielberg has earned the right to make a 3 1/2-hour version of Chicken Soup for the Soul if he wants. But I draw the line at this obvious attempt to wring audience tear ducts, abetted as always by longtime co-conspirator John Williams, whose score helpfully bludgeons the audience over the head to remind them when something poignant is happening. Accomplished as it looks on the big screen, War Horse is shamelessly manipulative and might be Spielberg's laziest movie since The Lost World, if not 1941.
War Horse is in theaters today. I'd recommend spending some time with the family, instead. Yeah, it's that bad.