Sunday, January 1, 2012

War Horse - Movie Review


Starring Jeremy Irvine, Emily Watson, Peter Mullan, David Thewlis, Tom Hiddleston, Niels Arestrup, David Kross and Toby Kebbell.  Directed by Steven Spielberg.

Steven Spielberg has always had one foot in the past and one foot in the future when it comes to his films. He likes the old-fashioned melodrama, the sweeping spectacle of cinema, and generally I like the idea of this movie. But Spielberg can't help himself. This movie almost collapses under the weight of its own schmaltz.

The movie is about Joey, a horse. A special horse. One day he is purchased by a proud Irish farmer who owes rent to one of those evil-smug "owns half the town" types. But the farmer's teenage son Albie (Jeremy Irvine) trains him. When World War I breaks out, the farmer, despearete for money, sells the horse to the army. And so Joey's journey begins, like Homer's The Odyssey. Joey goes from one adventure to another, somehow staying alive, all the while hoping he can get home.

I liked most of this movie. It's never boring, and I was interested to see where Joey's journey might take him. But the movie tries too hard to tug our heart-strings, and without resistance nor effort, it never tugged at mine. There's an earnestness that feels forced.

I saw a YouTube essay recently on what they call the "Spielberg face." The Spielberg face is a common shot he uses, where he zooms in on the face of an actor reacting with awe at whatever they're looking at behind the camera. It's been a trick of the trade since the silent era, but Spielberg uses it often, and I've never been more aware of it than in this movie. Way too many shots of people marvelling. "Wow. What a miracle. What a horse."

My favorite moments came from Niels Arestrup, the criminal godfather from Un Prophete, now here a kindly French grandfather trying to raise his orphaned granddaughter in peace as war rages all around them.

Some people this might work for, and they'll find it a rewarding cinematic experience. I thought it was fine. A shrug. A thumbs sideways.

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