Friday, December 7, 2012

War Horse

Directed by Steven Spielberg.

2011. Rated PG-13, 146 minutes.
Jeremy Irvine
Emily Watson
David Thewlis
Niels Arestrup
Benedict Cumberbatch

Of course, a horse is a horse, of course. Well, except for Joey. Joey is a bit different. After all, they made this movie about him. To be fair, it’s about him and his human Albert (Irvine). They get together when Albert’s dad Ted (Mullan) spends just about all of the family’s money on Joey at an auction. The problem is, being farmers with a particularly rough patch of land, they need a big, strong plow horse. Joey is small and sleek. Ted, a heavy drinker, only bought Joey because he sees something special in the animal. He’s just not sure what. This upsets his wife (Watson) who realizes the landlord is breathing down their necks and farming is their only source of income. They need Joey to work a miracle and plow this land. Ted has a bum leg and can’t train the horse for the job, if that’s even possible. Therefore, Albert steps up to take on the task. Quite literally through an act of God, Albert and Joey get the field plowed. The end.

Okay, that’s really just the beginning. All of that is to show us the special bond between the boy and the horse. It also scratches the surface on Joey’s incredible intelligence. The real conflict happens when World War I has come to Britain and the British army is looking for horses. Since that whole farming thing didn’t quite pan out, due to another act of God, Ted sells Joey to the army so he can pay the rent. This is in spite of Albert’s relentless pleading. The horse is off to battle while the boy, still too young to legally join the war effort, finagles his way into the service in hopes of a reunion with his one true love. Okay, I may be reading a bit much into it, but that’s the way it feels. Luckily for you, and I think for Albert, I’m not sure Joey trots that way. Thankfully, we’ll never find out for sure.

The battle scenes are harrowing. We alternate between watching Joey and Albert in their own separate dangerous situations. Many bombs go boom, kicking up much dirt as various unnecessary characters die. Even in the midst of war, Joe and Albert manage to form bonds with some of their fellow soldiers. Yes, Joey becomes good pals with another horse and even saves his equine buddy’s life. At this point, the great and powerful Spielberg commands you to cry. Disobedience will only bring about even more menacing sappiness. Never mind, you’ll get that no matter what.

If you can’t tell, War Horse is nearly two and a half hours of manipulating you to make liberal use of the tissue of your choice. The story is well-told, as is most of Spielberg’s work. However, the cheese is piled so thick it makes his last Indiana Jones movie look edgy by comparison. The difference is this movie seems to think it is not a shameless piece of fluff when that’s precisely what it is. It takes itself seriously despite the silliness of it all. Admittedly, it’s a beautiful looking movie with top notch cinematography and some wonderful individual scenes. Unfortunately, when it all comes together, War Horse crumbles under the weight of its own corniness.

MY SCORE: 5/10

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