Just in time for family-friendly holiday feel-goodery is Steven Spielberg’s historical epic “War Horse.” It’s about a magical horse who comes into a struggling British family’s life just before World War I. The father, played by Peter Mullan, buys him at auction even though he can’t afford him. The mother, played by Emily Watson, insists he take him back. But their teenage son, Albert, played by Jeremy Irvine begs to keep him and promises to train him.
Although Joey is clearly a spectacular creature, the father ends up selling him to the British cavalry because the family needs the money. Albert is devastated and swears they’ll meet again. Joey, meanwhile, thrives once more in this new setting.
Eventually he changes hands again and ends up living on a farm with an adorable but sickly French girl and her doting grandfather played by Niels Arestrup. Here, Joey gets to show off how clever he is.
“War Horse” is big and sweeping and sentimental but painfully earnest and even hokey. The script is so obvious and heavy-handed it’ll make you cringe. Yes, the horse is remarkable – of course he is – that’s why they made a movie about him. I hate to do this, but my thumb is down.
IGNATIY: My thumb is also down.
IGNATIY: I mean I get what Spielberg is trying to do with this. I—this is like his tribute to classical Hollywood craft. I mean there’s nothing in this movie that wouldn’t pass the Hays Code. You know, and you have these moments that are very elegant. For example, one of the battle scenes—the I think actually the first battle scene it’s a—you don’t actually get to see anyone uh get killed instead it’s represented by, you know, this calvary approaching a forest, and then, their horses leaving without riders.
CHRISTY: Right, they’re all stampeding. It’s very big and emotional,yes.
IGNATIY: Yeah and he’s also trying to get the same kind of, you know, post-World War I humanism, which you get in this scene, which is really the best scene of the movie; where an English soldier and a German soldier meet to free the horse from some barbed wire.
CHRISTY: It’s the best scene in the entire movie, and they ruin it.
IGNATIY: They do. They—they ruin it.
CHRISTY: Could’ve just left it as this lovely, quiet scene, and again they just can’t be subtle. They have to hammer you over the head with how great this horse is.
IGNATIY: And that speaks to the problem of this movie. I mean this is a two hour and twenty-six minute movie. It hammers it home until it loses what ever emotional power it could have had.
CHRISTY: Although, it is very beautiful. A lot of the skies look like they are artificial like a soundstage. I mean it’s impossibly beautiful at times. The scenery is quite lovely.
IGNATIY: But I mean postcards can be pretty, too.
CHRISTY: There you go.