Directed by Steven Spielberg
In 2011, Spielberg made two films which came out within a few days of each other. I chose to see the 3D animated one in the theaters, a genre I have little love for, so that should tell you my level of interest in War Horse. While I’d like to tell you that it won me over with its syrupy charms and its overbearing sentimentality, if I did it would be a lie. War Horse is not a bad film per se, but it’s one that just doesn’t resonate with me at all.
War Horse is something of a horse biopic, as Joey the horse is our main character. We open on his birth, and the first hour or so details his upbringing under the care of a teenager named Albert. They overcome adversity together as Albert coaxes Joey into plowing the field in front of the watchful eyes of the entire village. Did I miss something, or was watching a kid plow a field an early 1900s pastime in England? So strange, but in this movie it is the norm, as nearly every scene in the film is designed specifically to inspire and tug those aching heartstrings. Ugh.
Now for all that talk of hearts and throats, I have to give credit where credit is due and this same section of the film is notable for its ability to evoke the visual style of the 1950s. Specifically the films of John Ford, and even more specifically The Quiet Man, the look of this section is impeccable and recalls the days of Hollywood when location shooting was a rarity and still quite novel. There’s also shots that bring Shane to mind, and the color palette feels exaggerated in just the right way to evoke the distinct, long-gone look of Technicolor. Say what you will about the film itself, but it is rather well-shot.
Besides the flat, plodding story, I think what bothered me the most were the accents. Some of the Germans sounded like they were German, but most of them seemed to speak with English accents. Others were somewhere between English and German accents, which was fairly amusing, but the majority sounded English. This led to some problems as the film started to crosscut between English and German groups and I got a little confused because everyone sounded the same. Is it that hard to hire English-speaking Germans? There’s a whole country of wonderful people who I’m sure would love to be in a Spielberg film! So frustrating, but I can’t fault Spielberg specifically, as nearly every American film set in Europe does the same thing. At least we’ll always have Inglourious Basterds.
War Horse isn’t a horrible movie, but it is kind of horrible to me. Really not my thing. It’s incredibly well-shot, but the sweeping, syrupy sentimentality is poured on way too thick for a film without a deep, relatable character. Unless you’re a horse, of course, of course. I’m sure big-time horse lovers will get more out of this than I did, but it’s a horse movie, so of course they will. Spielberg clearly still has the chops to make something great, but War Horse ain’t it.