Movie Review: War Horse

Denisa and I watched War Horse the other day. I had fairly high hopes for the film, It got above 70 on both Rottentomatoes and Metacritic. It’s directed by Spielberg, based on what’s supposed to be an awesome play (which was in turn based on a children’s novel). Also? It was nominated for 6 Oscars, including Best Picture,

Sounds like a winner, yes?

But it just wasn’t. It’s beautifully shot. It looks fantastic, and I was impressed to read that almost all of it is real–digital effects were just used in one 3 second shot. Other than that, the whole thing is actual stuff being done by actual people.

What didn’t work for me, then? I think the biggest problem was that the story was too big. Too many plot points and characters to cover, and the stakes were never really established. In a nutshell, the story follows the adventures of a horse (Joey) in World War I. Joey encounters a lot of different humans, and he has good experiences with some and bad experiences with others. And this could have been really awesome. I enjoyed seeing the sequences depicting the war and how things were done at the time, and there were some very well done bits and pieces, but in the end, it feels like you’re watching a pinball game from the point of view of the pinball.

Joel doesn’t do enough to warrant being the main character of the movie. The various humans in the film don’t do enough either. So what you end up with is a slice of life movie masquerading as an action/adventure. That’s not a good combo. Maybe if I had been expecting just a slice of life film, it would have been different. I’m not sure. But I don’t think so. When I’m watching a movie, I want the main characters to be resourceful. To be people (or horses) who take an active part in their fate. Sitting back and being there doesn’t usually cut it.

Even overlooking this big problem, there wasn’t enough of an actual story to keep me engaged. First there’s life on the farm (which started well enough, and gave me hope for the movie), but then we’re with a series of owners. Each time, you wonder why we’re with this owner at this time. What will happen here that makes everything make sense. And it never comes together.

In the end, I’m left with a movie that looks fantastic, has a great score (John Williams), and . . . seems to be trying too hard to be an Oscar winner. It’s like an overenthusiastic high school drama student. Very earnest, and that’s all well and good, but this is the big leagues, son. Bring a story that counts, and bring some acting that works. (Did I mention the acting didn’t work for me? Likely because I was never engaged in the story.)

Still, I recognize sometimes I’m off in my reviews. Did anyone out there see this one and want to disagree with me? Was I too harsh? Let me know in the comments.

2 thoughts on “Movie Review: War Horse”

  1. I really enjoyed it, but I see your points. It was beautifully filmed and that had me awe-struck for most of the movie. I read the book it was based on afterward and was quite disappointed with that. Maybe the whole story just needed more work.

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