War Horse Review
By Bret Dorman
I am as cynical as the next movie critic. I don’t want a story where I can see the strings tugging at my heart, I want a story where every action is subtle, delicate, human. Problem is, as critics, we are always looking for these strings no matter what. So where does that leave War Horse? From the trailers you know exactly how you are supposed to feel and the fact that a horse is the main character only makes things ‘worse’. Luckily, Spielberg is it the reigns and he’s gonna make the ride nice and smooth.
The Story: Joey is a horse! He likes apples and running. He likes open fields and his mom. He is black with a white diamond on his head. He isn’t one of those silly ‘Mr. Ed’ types that talks. He is a real horse… and perhaps one day… a real boy? Oh wait… different movie. Well he gets ‘drafted’ into World War I and meets bunches of people, but his favorite is Albert (Jeremy Irvine). Also, running through barbed wire is painful.
Spielberg ain’t no fool. He knows how to milk a movie for all the tears it is worth. This movie is like pure sappy concentrate. The “Best of” Spielberg tear-jerking moments. Sentimentality, animals, war, death, love, friendship, and joy are all mixed in anthology style. As Joey drifts from owner to owner, the story substitutes compelling human drama for melodrama (not that there’s anything wrong with that).
Let’s get one thing clear, even though Joey may be one of the most human-like animals ever on film that hasn’t featured some sort of voice over or blatant CGI trickery; who is seemingly aware of certain situations and conversations where as most normal horses (or is it horsi?) would be completely oblivious. I don’t mind that. If I’m going to see a horse movie, I like that the horse is super cool and saves people or other horses and is a badass who runs INTO gunfire or AT tanks. But… the name Joey… is pretty stupid. I know people who go by Joey, some of them relatives even, but that’s a dumb name for a HORSE. His name should have been Lightning! or Speedy! or Boots! or Captain Haybomber! I guess a more human name is another attempt to humanize the ‘character’ but come on… Captain Haybomber!
The anthology style of the film helps cram in as money tear jerking moments as humanly (equininely) possible. Don’t think of the movie as obvious set up and depressing payoff, think of the movie as using short cuts and sticking with a theme. Sure Joey is the link between all the stories, but it’s not a story about the horse going on some typical heroes journey. The movie is more about how war is bad, sad, and pointless.
The ‘scene’ everyone will be talking about (in addition to the overwhelmingly horrifying ‘Barbed Wire Run’) is the Christmas Tuce-esque scene between a German and English soldier who band together to save Captain Haybombe- Joey… It sticks out as the most genuine, human moment in an otherwise pretty coloring book That Spielberg has filled in with your tears. I’m sure many critics would have loved to have seen this level of humanism and maturity brought to the whole movie, but didn’t he do that with Saving Private Ryan?
In Conclusion, War Horse is everything you hate about sappy tearjerkers that executes it so well you’ll be sure to shed a tear or two out of joy, sadness, and laughter. There’s not enough World War I movies out there, and certainly not enough starring a horse as the main character. If Spielberg’s general movie style and philosophy has been generally copied over the years… there’ll certainly never be enough of the originals from the man himself.
Final Grade: B+