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The story of a boy and his horse - touching, but overly sentimental
on February 8, 2015
Steven Spielberg has a certain type of film he makes really well, a sentimental one, and WAR HORSE is a perfect example of that for better or worse. The story follows a horse from birth, auction, and through WWI as he goes through a succession of owners. He might be the luckiest horse I've ever seen (or the unluckiest, depending on how you look at it). Through it all, he shows determination and manages to get through everything that life throws at him. Of course, this film suffers from what a lot of animal-centric films suffer from: the main character has a lack of agency in their own story. There is little reason to care about what happens to this horse beyond human compassion for animals. And since this film aims to be somewhat realistic, meaning no voices or internal monologue (like BLACK BEAUTY), you don't get a sense of what is going through its head outside of the physical performance. That leaves the character development to the human cast and, due to the nature of the story, we don't really get to spend that much time with any of them before they are jettisoned so that we can move on to the next chapter in the horse's life. There were several recognizable character actors (some distractingly so), but none of them are really given much to do. They take a backseat to the horse at the center of the story who, as I've previously mentioned, isn't too much of a character. Stuff happens to him, but that's it. The only two moments that brought genuine emotion out in me were a scene in which a horse is put down, and the scene in which Joey (the main horse) is reunited with his first owner. Everything else beyond that felt overly staged, contrived or there because of necessity to the plot. Outside of the story, though, everything else was spectacular. Reuniting with his cinematographer from SAVING PRIVATE RYAN, Steven Spielberg crafted some beautiful images staged some excellent battle sequences. Given the PG-13 rating, it's a bit toned down from what he did previously but nonetheless just as effective. And of course the acting was all very good, even if most of the cast were just playing filler characters. I even liked John Williams' score which complemented the film very nicely. Overall, I could take or leave the sappy nature of the story, but Steven Spielberg has made such a beautiful film that it is possible to overlook some of the other faults. It's not his greatest work, but it makes for a decent, non-challenging watch.