Before I embark on my daily round of puppy-kicking and unicorn-strangling, I have to say that in sitting through Spielberg’s second new release, War Horse, I felt as if I were being lowered into a vat of warm tears, there to remain for nearly two and a half freakin’ hours. This is a movie so boldly old-fashioned that much of its true target demographic must be long dead, or nearly enough.
It’s a movie about a noble horse and the boy who loves him. Well, the boy and the girl and a few other people who love him. The horse–one Joey–is conscripted into the British cavalry and dispatched to help fight World War I. Joey has many dangerous adventures, and the picture is in fact most effective in conveying, however discreetly, the horrors of the Great War–the mustard-gassed trenches, the mounted soldiers swinging outmoded swords in the face of enemy artillery. That’s not the problem; the movie is beautifully made. The problem is the story, which is an episodic sprawl, and its dripping sentimentality, a quality that Spielberg is unsurprisingly disinclined to mitigate.
In the 1982 book on which the film is based, the horse was the narrator, I gather. In the 2007 London stage play that was made from the book (and which has since collected a number of Tony Awards on Broadway), the story’s several horses are depicted by ingeniously designed, life-size puppets. Spielberg rightly decided that real horses would be required for the film version, and his ability to turn one of them (or several, actually) into a lead presence is remarkable.
Read the full review here.