Thursday, 1 March 2012

Film Review: War Horse (2011)

Director: Steven Spielberg
Writer: Lee Hall and Richard Curtis
Stars: Jeremy Irvine, Emily Watson and David Thewlis

The poster for War Horse tells us that horse and boy are ‘Separated by war. Tested by battle. Bound by friendship’. So why is it that even the Greatest Film Maker of All Time™ can’t make us care for either boy or horse, or any other character appearing over the course of 2 and a half hours?

War Horse has it’s problem rooted in three areas:

1. The story is far too episodic to allow the audience to feel emotion or engage with any of the human characters. If you did, then they’re off screen again as the horse moves on to its next owner. This is bad enough, but then some of these characters which you didn’t get the time to invest in reappear at the end for one great big mushy conclusion… only you don’t care by that point. The action scenes are not epic nor are they particularly shocking or hard-hitting. Spielberg set the bar so high in Saving Private Ryan that anything else he (or anyone else for that matter) makes in mainstream film will be compared to it and is destined for failure. The action scenes are fine, but they felt as if they were shoehorned in to give the film any degree of excitement. In another film of World War One, these may have made more of an impact but in War Horse, they add little to the proceedings.

2. The film doesn’t know its audience. It’s too dull and slow for kids; not emotionally engaging enough for adults; not exciting enough for the average popcorn-munching viewer; and nowhere near the standard you’d expect from Spielberg for anyone going to see it because he’s the director.

3. This point hurts my fingers to type it, but it has to be said… The holy trinity of Spielberg/ John Williams/ Janusz Kaminski is simply too overpowering in War Horse. The trademark Spielberg angles, Kaminski’s oranges and browns, Williams’ cues telling you when to start crying… Too much emphasise on trying to make the audience feel something, rather than actually making them feel it with a better story, less characters, less corny dialogue, and half an hour less footage.

Despite all of the above, War Horse is far from a terrible film and never reaches the depths of Spielberg’s worst film, Hook. It looks beautiful throughout and the sets and attention to detail of the trenches are excellent. However, it just does not work as effectively and as functionally as we’ve come to expect from the team involved.


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