Neum's Review of War Horse
Man, does this movie need a few bayonets in its belly. War Horse is uncorked, unfiltered, unneeded Spielberg, tidily glossing over complicated situations and substituting in easy, feel-good horseshit. Somebody loosened the reins on the director's lesser impulses and out came this pile of artificial epic. I really enjoy most Spielberg movies, but after Crystal Skull and now this, I wonder just how much I should adjust my expectations for Tintin, and beyond. I mean, cripes, there were so many facepalm-inducing cliches in this film that you almost wonder if Spielberg was actively trying to parody himself. Because that's as genuine as the proceedings felt. War Horse.
The film is basically a series of situations comprising of two character types: one with "horse vision," who can see all the unseen, unearned floating adjectives that encompass this damned horse ("courageous," "brave," "resilient," "majestic," etc.), and one who's following orders, no doubt representing the unstoppable war machine. Spielberg (and I suppose the source material) go out of the way to apply human characteristics to the horse, but it comes off as kids-movie phony, never ringing true - just as all the "horse vision" characters really seem to be projecting these holy qualities to the horse (called Joey, if you can believe it). Joey is a device void of emotional attachment, or even an icon - which fits more with the intent of his existence, considering what characters in the movie eventually view him as. Another nuance the film basically trampled over is that these protectors of Joey, the "horse vision" folk, speak to Joey as if the freaking horse understands human languages, trying to educate Joey or learn it important lessons in each stage of his apparently exciting life. And yet War Horse (the film) justifies their pedestrian efforts by actually having Joey obey the humans, bowling over true connection with some well-placed movie magic bullshit. War Horse.
I get that the implied beauty of these creatures juxtaposed against the ugliness of war parallels for humans as well, and that was meant to stir complicated emotions, bla dee bla. But each vignette is too short to truly connect to the characters who often bear great consequences. The horse steals too much focus from potentially interesting human stories - epitomized in a scene where a soldier requests a medic to tend to a horse instead of actual humans. The most compelling sequence in the film didn't even involve horses at all, but was a battle scene - something Spielberg has proven the mastery of his craft at before. And that's as intense as the film got, really, as the rest of War Horse's version of World War I was far too sanitized and, well, off-screen. War Horse.
John Williams' treacly score and Spielberg's penchant for a well-placed sunset / shafts of light and stained panels only emphasize the film's major flaws: it's the overtly sentimental theatrics without actually doing anything to deserve it. The film is supposed to be buoyed not just by Joey (War Horse!), but some kid who can't act so well (among other kids who can't act so well in the film) replete with a Shirespeak accent befitting of Samwise Gamgee. And relegated to proud staring-in-the-distance boilerplate are actual game actors Peter Mullan and Emily Watson. Obviously War Horse is going for that sort of connection and hope or whatever that can't be stopped by man's madness, all packaged for family-friendly consumption. But it's a gutless film that apes heart and sentiment where there's nothing but the cold, soulless gaze of a war horse staring at you. Projecting its dumb war horse thoughts at you, expecting nothing. War Horse.