daniel cohen reviews the new Spielberg war drama …
Plot: Set at the turn of the First World War, a farmer (Peter Mullan) buys a horse (Joey) that is trained by the farmer’s son, Albert (Jeremy Irvine). Albert grows attached to the horse, who is soon sold to the British army for the war. Joey encounters many people and hardships on his travels, as Albert longs to be reunited with him one day.
More like Yawn Horse. Yeah, this is one of the more boring films I’ve seen this year. While the second half picks up, this is painful at times to sit through. Maybe it’s because I’ve never owned a dog or any other pet, but this just didn’t hit with me. There are definitely moments where it’s impossible not to feel something for this horse, but these moments aren’t worth sitting through the agonizing two-and-a-half-hour run-time.
One of the problems with this movie is that the protagonist, Albert, is way too emotional and attached to this horse to the point where he wants to enlist in the war just so he can be with the horse. I just can’t buy this. It’s not like the character was 12, he’s around 16 at this point. I understand there are a lot of people who have a connection to a pet like this, but for me, this was waaaaaaaay over done. Albert is absolutely obsessed with Joey.
What irked me even more though is how everyone else instantly falls in love with this horse just by looking at him for two seconds. Tom Hiddleston’s character, a Captain in the fricking army, is more concerned about keeping the horse safe and updating Albert on his well being then his actual duty in the army. And then later, the horse gets injured, and this actually brings together an English and German soldier, where they put aside their differences to help the horse, and almost form a friendship! There’s even a point where one of the soldiers wants the horse to be treated for injuries over some of the humans!! Come on, we’re really getting ridiculous here. He’s not Mr. Ed!
But the biggest problem I have with War Horse is what I already alluded to, and that’s the pacing. Cut me a break Steven Spielberg. This is basically Forrest Gump, but with a horse. He encounters all types of people in different situations, and it’s just endless. Each section has an intriguing moment, but everything takes so long, that none of it really sticks with you. This is especially true for the end. You are waiting for one thing to happen, and it’s so stretched out to the point where if I was going to feel any emotion in this film, it evaporates with how long it takes to get there. As beautiful as the cinematography is, we don’t need to linger on shots for 10 minutes.
All of the characters are just whatever. There’s nothing special here. There’s one section with a farmer (Niels Arestrup) and his daughter (Celine Buckens) that I found interesting, but nothing else really stuck with me. The only stand-out performance was Emily Watson as Rose Narracott, the mother of Albert, who has a very strong personality. None of the other performances were anything to write home about. In fact, Jeremy Irvine as the lead was probably the worst. He overacted everything, and always had this stupid wide-open mouth look.
I was also disappointed with John Williams’ score. He clearly didn’t care about this movie as it seemed like he just pressed a big red button that said ‘Generic Epic Score,’ and called it a day. I guess this set the tone though. The movie opens, and you hear that generic score we’ve heard hundreds of times, and you could just feel the boring going-through-the-motions movie that was about to play out.
I’ve been pretty hard on this film, but there’s at least some solid war action, and the horse running through the battlefield did look pretty damn good. I’m just not the type of person who going to get emotionally invested in a horse for two-and-a-half hours, I’m sorry. This was Spielberg schmaltz at its worst. Most will disagree with me though as everyone in that theater gave this film a resounding applause, and some were even in tears. I was in tears, too … from boredom.
Rating: 5.5 out of 10 (Passable Entertainment)