Giovanni's Movie Review: WAR HORSE
Published: December 27, 2011 - 3:18pm
Theater and cinema are very different art forms. One requires amped-up theatrics to make sure everyone in a playhouse can see what’s going on. Movies, on the other hand, give the artist freedom to use subtlety. Actors needn’t make their emotions huge; a camera shot lingering on a face can express that just fine. But someone might want to alert Stephen Spielberg of that; his adaptation of the Broadway hit War Horse is about as a subtle as a jackhammer.
The film is an emotionally overblown story about a young man, Albert, (Jeremy Irvine) and his horse Joey (A Horse), who get separated during the madness of World War I. Once that separation occurs, the horse is passed around, moving from owner to owner. In some ways, War Horse has the feeling of a 60’s European film, moving through different vignettes about how peoples’ lives are affected by the war. And frankly, the portion of the film isn’t so bad. It’s a little overdramatic, but the trench warfare setting and untraditional narrative—for an American Hollywood blockbuster, at least—is intriguing. It’s essentially a much lighter version of Robert Bresson’s Au Hasard Balthazar.
But here’s the problem. That portion is book ended by an entirely different movie; and one that, frankly, is no good. The entire first act chronicles the bond that forms between boy and horse. It’s unbelievably saccharine, dousing the screen in matte paintings and lighting that would have looked outdated for a movie in the 50’s. It’s as if Spielberg is trying to capture the experience of theater on screen. This might not be as much of a problem were it consistent through the film—Ingmar Bergman pulled it off just fine in his adaptation of The Magic Flute. But the fact that he spends 45 minutes building an atmosphere and style only to throw it away entirely is jarring and irritating.
The stylistic misdirection is only scratching the surface, however. The lead actors also present trouble from the get-go. Let’s put one thing straight; horses can’t act. They’re not terribly expressive creatures, meaning you need to shoot in a way that IS expressive to create the illusion. Spielberg and company don’t do that here. Instead, they simply throw a horse on screen. The opposite problem is true of Irvine, however, whose over directed performance draws his character as a big ten-year-old boy crying over his lost pony. Not to mention that his weepy, overly heartfelt performance makes the relationship between the two feel a lot more like Equus.
War Horse isn’t exactly bad, just antiquated. It’s an okay, albeit unremarkable, war story surrounded by obnoxious sentimentality. There are millions of things that could have been done to save it from mediocrity, but the main problem is the utter lack of a cohesive vision. It’s a film about people coming together, whether it be as opposing soldiers, old friends, or complete strangers, and finding a universal similarity between them; compassion. Yet War Horse feels as if it’s at odds with itself, struggling to find common ground between casual blockbuster fans, and art house enthusiasts. At best, it’s only half-successful at being either of those.
From director Steven Spielberg comes “War Horse,” an epic adventure for audiences of all ages. Set against a sweeping canvas of rural England and Europe during the First World War, “War Horse” begins with the remarkable friendship between a horse named Joey and a young man called Albert, who tames and trains him. When they are forcefully parted, the film follows the extraordinary journey of the horse as he moves through the war, changing and inspiring the lives of all those he meets—British cavalry, German soldiers, and a French farmer and his granddaughter—before the story reaches its emotional climax in the heart of No Man’s Land. The First World War is experienced through the journey of this horse—an odyssey of joy and sorrow, passionate friendship and high adventure. “War Horse” is one of the great stories of friendship and war—a successful book, it was turned into a hugely successful international theatrical hit that is arriving on Broadway next year. It now comes to screen in an epic adaptation by one of the great directors in film history
Directed by Steven Spielberg with a screenplay from Lee Hall and Richard Curtis War Horse stars Emily Watson, Toby Kebbell, Tom Hiddleston, David Thewlis and Benedict Cumberbatch. It is set for release in the U.S on December 25, 2011 and in the U.K. on January 13, 2012.