Steven Spielberg‘s latest drama War Horse is full of great imagery and good characters, but its story lacks any real connection between its characters. Jeremy Irvine‘s relationship with his horse Joey starts out kind of cute and innocent, but gets downright unsettling by the end. It questions the sanity of the leading character and everyone around him. The film also features one of the worst musical scores John Williams has ever made. It practically forces you to feel happy, sad and angry. It leaves no room for self-discovery.
Albert (Jeremy Irvine) is a young kid who’s looking for a new friend. His father buys a horse named Joey. This horse isn’t like your typical working class horses, something is special about this creature and Albert is determined to teach Joey his ways and build the strongest relationship man has ever had with an animal. Just when things are looking up for Albert and Joey World War I decides to take one massive dump on Albert and everyone around him. Joey is sold to Captain Nicholls (Tom Hiddleston) for war use and Albert is devastated.
He tries everything he can to get Joey to stay with him. He bargains for him, he offers more money for him and at one point in the conversation he offers to enlist in the war, but he returns home empty handed and with a big hole in his heart. As the war rages on across Europe Joey swaps countless owners on both sides of the war and at one point has a pit stop with a young girl and her grandfather, but no matter how far Joey and Albert are separated they still find a way back to each other because of their friendship.
War Horse is Spielberg’s feel-good holiday film. You go into the movie expecting to cry and expecting to watch a pretty basic tale of separation and inspiration and that’s exactly what you get. You’re introduced to the main characters in a silly manner, with jokes hitting the floor without laughter and characters blending together. You only care about the boy and his horse, but even that is a stretch. Once the war heightens and things get serious you’re expected to sit in suspense, hoping the horse is eventually returned to the boy.
The only real surprise in War Horse is how the most interesting characters are shoved out of the film at an extremely fast rate. The really boring characters that test your patience have no problems staying alive and well, but the real powerhouse performances are short and sweet.
Tom Hiddleston graduates from good to great. He showed his skills when he added the much needed depth to Thor’s brother Loki earlier this year and he provides even more depth as Captain Nicholls. In any other hands Nicholls would have been just another war captain that understands the bond Albert and Joey has, but Hiddleston not only understands the bond, but he appreciates it. His appreciation for Joey and for Albert is the most sincere thing about the whole film.
Of course the main relationship of the film wouldn’t have any weight if it wasn’t for Jeremy Irvine‘s Albert. For an up and coming actor Jeremy Irvine provides a good performance, but I’m willing to bet it’s because of Spielberg. He has a talent for discovering young, unknown actors and getting some great work out of them and Irvine is no exception. He’s got heart and charisma, but his relationship with his horse is a bit odd. The boy cuts out every other person in his life to channel a strong connection with Joey and it starts to get a bit too ridiculous.
The rest of the performances are typical Spielberg supporting roles. Each person brings enough laughs and drama to their respective roles, but no one really makes you care enough to remember their characters name.
As a director Steven Spielberg captures some really beautiful shots. War Horse starts off in pleasant scenery with warm sunsets and the open land, but then it quickly turns into the cold and grey brutal realities of war and what it does to an innocent town or country. The best part of the entire film is the second half when the war picks up. Watching Joey’s interactions with other people isn’t all that interesting, but watching the actual war unfold is.
Trench warfare is no picnic and Spielberg captures that harsh truth in a very disturbing way. Dozens of bodies lie on shredded barbwire as the soldiers do battle by way of swords and guns. As the war continues to rage on the story slowly raises into interesting territory, only to be shot down by an all too familiar and predictable ending.
My problem with the ending isn’t how predictable it is, but it’s how it gets there. The opening act of the film is way too slow and routine for my tastes. John Williams‘ generically upbeat score accompanies the attempted humor as Spielberg tries to establish the importance of the relationship early on, but you don’t really settle in until Tom Hiddleston takes Joey and the war comes to the front line of the story. At that point you’ll start to question where the film is going due to characters coming and going as fast as horses eat fresh apples, but then it reaches a certain point in the war where you know the ending is coming and it’s just a matter of time.
You’ll be able to guess it scene for scene and boy is it some sappy bullshit. I guess most will be pleased with it though because it’s a guaranteed tear jerker for the whole family. Some of the war scenes might scar an infant, but at the rate we’re going it shouldn’t matter too much.
There’s an interesting story to be told in War Horse, but the way Spielberg tells it isn’t all that interesting. The film takes several easy routes at the beginning of the film to build up the relationship between Albert and Joey, but it gets really good during the middle. Somewhere towards the last 30 minutes you’ll start to power down, knowing exactly how it’s going to end. There’s three parts of War Horse and only one part is worth watching. The other two will probably cater to most crowds, but it’s so overdone and effortless.
For some odd reason studios decided to pair two Spielberg films up this holiday season. War Horse and The Adventures of Tintin come out within days of each other. The better film of the two is Tintin by a mile. Tintin is pure adventure with great performances, lots of fun action and proper use of 3D. (Check out my review here) War Horse on the other hand is an emotionless drama for the most part with brief occurrences of strong character work and an excellent recreation of war, but in order to get to those impressive war scenes and interesting characters you have to sit through lots of meaningless dribble.
War Horse – 7/10