Wednesday, January 4, 2012

War Horse

Steven Spielberg’s War Horse is the most uselessly unrealistic, hopelessly optimistic, didactically throat-jamming war film that I’ve seen in years, if not ever. The result is two and half plus hours of overblown sentiment, leading violins, sorrowful acting and a hell of a lot of horse training. Enjoyable for some, I’m sure, but cinematic kryptonite for me.

After a tediously long opening segment of a boy observing a horse grow up (and really nothing more), farm boy Albert is tasked by his drunken father to teach the horse how to plow. So, basically, the only remotely interesting thing that happens in the first 50 minutes of the film is a horse plowing a field, which is about as dull as it sounds.

Once World War I takes hold, the horse is sold to a horse-loving British Capitan. A few scenes later, the horse becomes the property of a young, horse-loving German soldier. A few scenes later, the horse becomes the property of a young, horse-loving French girl, then a horse-loving German soldier, then a horse-living British soldier, and on and on.

Once you come to terms with the fact that a.) the horse in War Horse is nothing more than a gimmick to examine and understand every side of WWI in under 90 minutes, and b.) the horse will always, without fail, wind up in the hands of an unwavering horse admirer, then you may be able to enjoy yourself. Hell, after a while, I accepted the film for what it was and settled in for the lackluster ride. The kind of war film where the battles are bloodless and the soldiers void of profanity.

I was accepting up to a point.  Until a scene of such laughable symbolism and baffling inaccuracies that I had simply had enough.

Semi late in the film, the titular horse is tangled in barbed wire in the middle of a dormant battlefield. On opposite ends of the field rest British and German forces in muddy trenches. Once the horse is spotted, a young British soldier wielding a white flag walks out to set the horse free. Soon after, a young German soldier wielding a white flag walks out to help the horse as well.

Now, seriously, come on.  I understand the hyperbolic sentiment. Opposing forces unite! We are all capable of humanity! But please, give me a fucking break. From a guy who has created such lasting, realistic images of war on film, this scene is a complete set back. It’s forced, absurd, and so rooted in metaphorical nonsense that it is pathetic. Call me heartless, call me a cynic; the fact remains that this scene, like much of War Horse, is evidence of a director who is more concerned with pleasing the masses than making honest work.

When the lights for War Horse came up, I noticed that a couple well over the age of 70 were audibly crying. Point being, there’s serious money to be made in overblown sentiment. On Christmas (the day this film was released) most people don’t want to be reminded of the horrors of war. They want a well-intentioned, big-hearted story of hope to help pass the time.  That, to me, is dangerous, because if film isn’t used as a medium to, among other things, shake things up and cause a little controversy, then what the hell is it? D

24 comments:

  1. Haha. I told you. Yet the responses have been predominantly favourable. I don't get it.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I enjoyed this post exponentially more than I enjoyed the movie.

    ReplyDelete
  3. It is manipulative, corny, and very schmaltzy but somehow Spielberg won me over by the fact that he can make any story feel emotional and that No-Man's Land scene just really had me the whole time. Great review.

    ReplyDelete
  4. To purge: watch the end of Kagemusha.

    ReplyDelete
  5. well, watch all of Kagemusha, but the end is the part that's applicable.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Spielberg is a filmmaker whom I've soured on lately. Not because of the things he's been doing as a filmmaker but also for the projects he green-lights and say that people like Michael Bay are talented.

    I was iffy about this film as while I'm sure it looks great. I'm not really into sentimentality unless it's earned.

    Spielberg is in that list of people who I think should retire. Unlike veterans like Polanski, Malick, Scorsese, and Allen who have made films that can live up to their great works in recent years. Spielberg doesn't seem to have it anymore. Does he have anything new to say that do more than just entertain and be something people will remember for years to come?

    ReplyDelete
  7. Ouch! Not seen this yet but that's a pretty damning review. I've never been convinced about this one and shall definitely wait for the DVD. Very convincing review!

    ReplyDelete
  8. Great review, I had a feeling the movie will be chesy beyond belief. I don't think all movies should be controversial, I enjoy warm and even sentimental films, but this looks like a gigantic fluffy teddy bear covered in pink glitter.

    ReplyDelete
  9. @Andy Buckle Me. Either. The fact that it is considered to be third in the running for Best Pic....huh?

    ReplyDelete
  10. @Dan O. Well, I'm glad you got some enjoyment out of it. It has won over most people; just wasn't my bag.

    ReplyDelete
  11. @thevoid99 I completely agree with you. When I profiled his entire career over the summer, I was shocked to find how many of his films I actually dislike. The name "Spielberg" is often synonymous with "greatness," but he's made a lot of crap too. And yeah, don't even get me started on his lousy producing choices.

    War Horse has me seriously wondering if Lincoln will be any good.

    ReplyDelete
  12. @Pete Ha thanks man. Yeah you can definitely hold off until DVD. It's not like there are any excellent battle scenes that warrant a giant screen.

    ReplyDelete
  13. @Sati. No no, I definitely don't think the only reason for film is to stir controversy. I too enjoy the sentiment that films can bestow, but this just too much. Your analogy is perfect.

    ReplyDelete
  14. Nice review. I keep trying to remember that this is based on a children's novel, but agree that they could have done more with it. And while I don't know that much about horses, I did begin to wonder what was really so special about this one that EVERYONE in the film seemed to notice so instantly. In a way, it was almost like an animated film in that sense, except that the live action nature made it harder to dismiss some of the more absurd elements. It sure did look pretty though!

    ReplyDelete
  15. Well, you definitely agree with my fiancee on this one.

    ReplyDelete
  16. @NeverTooEarlyMP I'm right there with you, the entire time I kept wondering why everyone was so instantly transfixed with this damn horse. And I too thought it would've been better suited as an animated film. It definitely was nice to look at, Kaminski certainly knows his stuff, but I'm damn near positive that some of the landscape shots were achieved with special effects. That final sunset was absurdly over the top in its imagery.

    ReplyDelete
  17. @Mr_Sheldrake Ha nice. Did you like it? I didn't see a review on your site.

    ReplyDelete
  18. I think it was rated so high because War Horse's main audience was late elementary school girls to high school girls, and they don't really have a good grip of how violent, awful, and grim this war was, and the two soldiers helping the horse under flag of truce seemed perfectly normal to them.
    Plus, can someone explain how on the French front a horse used to plow FLAT fields ever advanced through the battlefield, with the trenches everywhere?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. PREACH! Love this comment. Thanks so much for stopping by and leaving it!

      Delete
  19. Did you know that during WWI the British and the German soldiers actually played soccer together and sang Chistmas songs to each other across the trenches?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I didn't know that at all. And actually, that is really interesting. Willing to set aside their differences for the love of the game.

      Delete
  20. Those who can...do...those who can't, just review.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Really man? Come on, you're better than this.

      Delete