Brian – 6 out of 10
There are three positive things I will say right off the bat while watching War Horse:
- There has never been a director who sat behind a camera in the history of film making that can hold a candle to Spielberg when it comes to shooting war battles. He is the master.
- Spielberg breaks the 2 major movie rules: Don’t work with kids and don’t work with animals and he does both successfully.
- Spielberg loves John Ford and tries to emulate his shots on several occasions and does that successfully as well.
Those three items are what rated this film a 6. So, what pulls it back from greatness? Well, the usual sappy Spielberg melodrama for starters. Why is it that every time something major happens between the main characters there’s an audience of starry eyed observers? Is there not enough of a dramatic undercurrent and paint by numbers storytelling that we really need a group of people to show us how we’re supposed to feel? That really annoyed me. Also, I get that the whole story is based on the idea that this young man loves his horse so much that he’s willing to join a war and put his life in danger to find him, but, why? Did the horse save his life? No. Did the horse do something that somehow changed the course of his life? Nope. Right from the first shot we’re led to believe that he’s infatuated with the horse. Once his father comes home with the steed, he stares at the animal with a lover’s eyes. It actually comes across as kinda creepy. He’s put in charge of training Joey (the horse’s name) and constantly presses his face to his and stares lovingly in the horse’s eyes while saying shit like, “Oh, c’mon Joey, you can do it. I believe in you.” Who the hell talks to an animal like that? It made me wonder whether he slept in the house or the barn.
Thank God the movie shifted tone about a third of the way through as the horse goes to war. When that happens, the film shifts main characters from the young man who trained him to a British officer, to a young boy and his brother going AWOL, to a young french girl and her Grandpa, and so on. I enjoyed that storytelling approach because we’re seeing the world from very different perspectives and the feeling has less of a Disney film. Where does it rank in the Spielberg filmography? Somewhere in the middle and that’s still better than most filmmakers who take a stab at such emotional material.