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