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War Horse (2011)

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Score: 4/10

Genre: War Running Time: 2 hrs. 26 min.

Release Date: December 25th, 2011 MPAA Rating: PG-13

Director: Steven Spielberg Actors: Jeremy Irvine, Peter Mullan, Emily Watson, Niels Arestrup, David Thewlis, Celine Buckens, Eddie Marsan

W

ar itself is the ultimate villain, not any one particular side. With this in mind, Steven Spielberg’s “War Horse” attempts to impartially reveal the impact such conflict has on all parties involved and refrains from isolating any individual antagonists. But for a film devoid of any real adversaries, its plethora of protagonists is pitifully uninspiring. While some receive only fleeting moments and others wallow in their wearisome durations, few manage to incite emotion, regardless of what the bellowing musical cues and copious close-ups of weathered faces would try to impart. Scurrying back and forth between a multitude of perspectives provides a unique outlook on the film’s tragic subject, but without characters viewers can actually care for, they’re left to root for a horse that’s a symbol at best, and a plot device at worst.

When cantankerous old drunk Ted Narracott (Peter Mullan) impetuously buys a thoroughbred horse to plow his turnip fields, his young son Albert (Jeremy Irvine) eagerly faces the challenge of training the proud stallion, named Joey. War breaks out and Ted sells the horse to the cavalry, unbeknownst to Albert, who becomes determined to reunite with his loyal companion. As the intrepid steed is affected by the hardships of the war, so too are the lives that cross paths with the noble animal.

Many of the ideas in “War Horse” are intriguing, but most are not utilized smartly enough. The horse itself is a tool to tie together the multiple storylines, yet it’s given so much screentime that it’s practically another character. Audiences are even subjected to the ideas of the horse understanding human language, trying to convey human emotions, and getting equal treatment alongside humans. Following the horse’s point of view further exaggerates its subtle anthropomorphic qualities. But if Joey is to be interpreted as another character, it’s a poorly developed one. Throughout the film, the creature is rarely more than a symbol and a link to the next army, owner, and audit of nationalities involved with the war. “He’s a horse, not a dog!” exclaims Sergeant Perkins, who correctly translates Joey’s inability to transcend being anything other than an animal (regardless of how greatly admired he is across the animal food chain).

It doesn’t help that of all the storylines and characters, Albert is the least interesting. His father is an alcoholic and makes reckless decisions (at one point he nearly shoots his son). Since he is at fault for the hard times he so carelessly bestows upon his own family, is sympathy for Ted truly the desired goal? The training and field plowing moments are tiresome (are these scenes supposed to be inspiring or uplifting through suspenseful trench digging?) and the brief bonding isn’t credential. Too much focus is on the exploits of the horse and not enough time is spent with the humans affected by it. The unbiased viewpoint of the various participants of war is purposeful, but the contrivances and coincidences are too flagrant to be emotionally moving. In its defense, “War Horse” does feature impressive battle reenactments that echo “Saving Private Ryan,” and several of Spielberg’s family-friendly, lighthearted tactics to poke through the lengthiness (such as a comic relief goose, playfully curious woodwind melodies, and speeches designed to prompt cheers). Ultimately, Spielberg tries too hard to live up to his own standards and expected inclusions.

– The Massie Twins

 



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