January 1, 2012

Movie Review: War Horse

I was duped! I wanted a talking horse and this horse never said one word. I could have sworn the advertising campaign was just playing coy with the horse, never giving up the big reveal. All right, I guess I always knew this wasn't a talking horse movie, but a guy can dream, can't he? To be honest, War Horse is not a movie I was particularly looking forward to seeing. Sure, the trailer had some nice looking shots, but overall it seemed a bit overwrought and silly. However, the fact that Spielberg's name was on it was enough for me power through my doubts and give it a go.

It's funny, I went in more or less determined not to let myself all prey to cloying sentimentality and by the end there was something there that wasn't when it started. Yes, I had a little bit of the warm and fuzzies. I don't think it really matters how hard you steel yourself against it, if a director of skill like Spielberg wants you to react a certain way, your strings will be pulled.

War Horse is a good movie, don't get me wrong. It is just that it did not connect completely. Yes, I did feel those required emotions and I did feel involved, it is just not a great movie on every level. The story seems a touch disjointed, the acting was not always up to par, and the focus seemed to be purely on eliciting an emotional response, not necessarily about genuine involvement at all passes.

As the movie opens we witness the birth of a horse. This horse stands up quickly and displays an inquisitive demeanor, it is sold as a work horse and trained by a teenage boy name Albert (Jeremy Irvine) until World War I breaks out and the boy's father sells the horse to an officer for the war effort.

What follows this is a horse's journey across the war zone where he has an impact on the lives of a variety of men, women, and children on both sides of the battle before ultimately making his way back home. It is an elegant story of some simplicity, we need not worry about the personality and actions of a person, just the free flowing matter of chance of a horse. We are swept along from place to place, experience to experience, just like the horse. It is easy to respect the simplicity. However, by the same token, the horse has to keep moving and therefore the development of the human characters tends to lack a little bit.

Where the movie really excels is in the way it is shot. You could take just about any frame of this movie and turn it into a postcard. It is really that good looking. But looks and somewhat manipulated emotions do not always add up to a great movie, oftentimes not even a good movie. With regards to War Horse I can honestly say I enjoyed it, it was gorgeous to look at, but when it is all said and done, I don't really care if I ever see it again. It is not a film I feel I will need to see or explore again.

Spielberg and whoever was their horse wrangler did a great job in getting the horse to "act." I swear, that horse was one step away from being human. That is more than I can say about some of the actors. The only one to make much of an impact was Jeremy Irvine as Albert, and it was not good. I swear, I did not want to see him any more than was absolutely necessary. He is a young actor early in his career, but he comes across as one note here and that note is whining. Ugh.

Still, I have no qualms in recommending this movie. It is well shot, paced, and it really is hard to go wrong when Spielberg is on his game.


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