The Twenty-First Century

War Horse [2011]

Something’s missing. I felt it the first time during the movie, and when it ended, I still felt a letdown. How could I not? Steven Spielberg,  the director of a handful of films I revere, from “Close Encounters”, “Indiana Jones”, “Schindler’s List” and “Saving Private Ryan” to last year’s masterful “The Adventures Of Tintin”, is at the helm. From him, expectations are usually high. From him we get what? A story about a horse during WWI which has a great deal of sentiment built into it, but shortchanges on the daring. I hear Spielberg stayed respectful in adapting the 1982 children’s book, written by Michael Norpugo. I’ve never read the book, but since it was originally aimed at kids, I can understand why the tone of the movie feels awfully cheesy. Every turn of the story and each new character we meet is introduced to us in obvious fashion. That tone is established early on, when we meet an impoverished farmer who purchases a horse he could barely afford at an auction. His son adopts the animal as his own and decides to train him, against all odds, to plow their land. He and the horse develop a real connection. But when the war breaks out in 1914, the horse is sold to the cavalry and sent to France, where horses are used to haul supplies and lead the charge into battle. From then on, the movie is a series of encounters between the horse and the people he meets, from a British officer who promises to take care of him, to a girl and her grandfather in France. It all sounds emotional, and perhaps it is. “War Horse” was beautifully shot and the story itself is absorbing, to a certain extent. The film also features some really good actors like Emily Watson, Niels Arestrup and David Thewlis. 

Younger viewers will probably fall in love with it. I’m usually a sucker for this kind of story, but I found the execution lacking. The cinematography is so gorgeous, but fails to cover up the cheesy Hallmark script being foisted upon us. I admire everything about it, but let’s face it: movie-goers wouldn’t have rushed to see it if it weren’t for Spielberg behind the cameras. And ultimately, that’s my problem with it. Spielberg’s “War Horse” is gloriously rendered but too unoriginal to leave a mark.

Rating: 2.5/4

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