If you’ve ever said, “They don’t make movies like they used to anymore,” then you haven’t seen War Horse yet.
If you’ve ever said, “They don’t make movies like they used to anymore,” then you haven’t seen War Horse yet. This is definitely the kind of film they used to make in the 1940s. It’s big, epic, dramatic, and emotional. In many ways I suspect people would expect that of Steven Spielberg, but this is much more of an old school drama than one of a more contemporary style. In saying that, this film might benefit or suffer for it, depending on the point of view of those watching it.
Albert has loved this horse since its birth. He then trained it, painstakingly, making it his own. When the horse is sent to be a cavalry horse in the war, he promises one day to be reunited with it, even as he himself is later enlisted. We experience each of their journeys toward an emotional conclusion.
War Horse has all the ingredients of an epic Oscar nominated film, no doubt. It’s a grand, historical epic during a time of war with a huge ensemble cast – who are all brilliant, by the way – it has an emotional connection between man and animal. This has “weepy” written all over it. I can’t imagine there would be any throat without a lump in it after this one.
However, at the same time, there are scenes that might have been shot by Frank Capra 60-some years ago. I hate to use the word “hokey,” but there are moments that are darn close. Certain scenes look more like they’re staged for a grandiose painting than for a film scene, and the camera is held there for almost as long as would take to paint it. But, again, this will likely only affect the viewers that are most jaded. Those with a soft spot will connect with it, and anyone that has a love of classic film, too.
Though you might expect the ending to be a great crescendo of emotional build-up, Spielberg and the writers manage to stretch it out, surprisingly, to temper what could have been an over the top weeper into a bit more complicated last act with more of a roller coaster effect. This is, however, based on a book that I haven’t read, so I don’t know how faithful it is to that. The last shot is about as faithful to Frank Capra as it could be, but then, I guess Spielberg is his generation’s Capra, isn’t he?
There are great battles sequences in this, too, but the action is virtually bloodless. Nothing here the likes of Saving Private Ryan. Here, guns blaze, swords fly, and mortar shells explode, but it’s all for show, not for shock. Having said that, it does sufficiently show the danger and challenges our characters face.
Nonetheless, War Horse has all it needs to find itself in the Oscar running this year, but there are elements that could hold it back. Some may find it too hokey or melodramatic, but if you can allow for some of that, you’ll find yourself wrapped up in it. Three and half, maybe four, kittenhands. We’ll see how it fares with the Academy.
– Neil T. Weakley, your average movie-goer, finding myself somewhere between loving this and being a little jaded for some moments.