Directed by: Steven Speilberg
Starring: Jeremy Irvine, Emily Watson, David Thewlis
Review: Much has been made about how some of director Steven Spielberg’s choices regarding this movie have somewhat trivialized war. From watching this film, you can most definitely see where that mentality is coming from. Much of what Spielberg has done here is focus on the horse in question, giving this a slightly Disney-fied air.
The horrible aspects of war do exist within this film, but how they’re dealt with is the issue. I have not read the book nor seen the play that this film is based on. However, it would appear that those mediums use the ‘War Horse’ title character to show the trials and tribulations that are faced during war. The horse is a vehicle to show these issues. While the horse may be the engine, the focus of the material shifts based on where the horse is in his story.
This would seemingly make this a film that I usually enjoy. Movies that are not really about what they’re about are often times some of the best. In this case, the movie is exactly about what it purports to be about, which is a failure.
Each scenario the horse finds itself in – plow horse, army steed, German captive horse, German gun pulling horse, little girls adopted pet – all come back to the horse. Instead of shifting the focus in each stop along the way to how the world around Joey (the horse) is affected, it instead chooses to maintain concentration on the horse itself. This is trying to make it a character that has feelings and emotions and affected the same way we are as humans.
The problem exists in that the horse isn’t a human. They don’t have the ability to describe their emotions the way we can. Their world is complete unto themselves. While they may have connections to humans or other horses, their inherent goal is a continued existence. Besides physical injury, little of their outside world will affect their quality of life.
Trying to humanize the animal and make it a victim of the war only goes to minimalize what those people had to endure. Without giving away too much, at its seminal moment the horse event stands to provide a momentary truce between soldiers.
The sentiment is obvious. Both sides have soldiers who are fighting because their side thinks they should. Being a soldier at the time was something most were thrown into. Whether they agreed or not, they had to fight. The other side is just a nameless, faceless, person trying to shoot at them.
The problem here again lies in the execution. Instead of a powerful moment where we realize how horrible of a situation war is, pitting men against others that are just like themselves, we get a ho-hum “see we can get along” segment. It’s supposed to be a peak moment of the movie, but falls flat.
Even with some of the shortcoming there are definitely still things to like about this film. The cinematography is phenomenal. While most cinematographers don’t really get much play Janusz Kaminski is as close to a rock star as you can get. He does not disappoint here. The night scene where the horse is running through a battlefield is both tragic and beautiful in its brilliance.
There are moments where Spielberg shows his mastery from films like ‘Saving Private Ryan’ and ‘Schindler’s List.’ However, those are few and far between and often times fall back on his fail safe: the horse. What is a promising premise turns out to be the biggest reason the movie falls short in many ways.
This movie is worth your time for a rental.