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A movie directed by Steven Spielberg

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I hate to be a naysayer, but...

  • Jun 24, 2012
** out of ****

Allow me, for a moment, to establish a few of my reviewer biases that I might not have already established in the past. What I like in a movie is entertainment, however it may be delivered; be it through a thought-provoking story, strong central characters, or a satisfying visual style. What I dislike is familiarity, simplicity (although sometimes I can let it slide), and ignorance. And now it all boils down to what a truly hate: forced sentimentality, the manipulation of my emotions, pretense, and obvious Oscar Bait. Why do I feel the need to mention my reviewer biases at this point in time? Because Steven Spielberg's newest live action effort, "War Horse", is the kind of movie that I should have liked but didn't. For the full 146 minutes, I felt like I was being dragged along whereas I should have been riding contently with this cinematic stallion.

I hate to be a naysayer, I really do. But Spielberg's latest just plain annoyed me. It has everything - and I mean EVERYTHING - that you'd expect from a Hollywood production, although not enough of what we've come to expect from Spielberg. As a director, he's made some incredible movies but has been experiencing a sort of decline recently; and this is just more evidence of that. Some directors remain great from the starting point to the finish line of their career; but it would seem that Spielberg is settling down perhaps a bit too soon. He hasn't lost any of his affection or indulgence to deliver family-friendly fare, and this is a fairly well-made film, but this is just another one of those movies that - to me - feels mushy and bittersweet to the point of no return.

Albert (Jeremy Irvine), a farmer's boy, witnesses the birth - and growth - of a Bay Thoroughbred horse. It is then auctioned in town once it has grown, and Albert's father (Peter Mullan) blows all he's got on the animal. He fears that he may not be able to pay his landlord (David Thewlis) given that what he spent on the horse (30 guineas) was all his family had. To pay off the money, the horse must help plow a field on the farm. Albert promises to train and harness the animal for this occasion. He names the horse Joey. Things seem going well for a while; almost...too well. Suspicion is proven logical when a rainstorm destroys the crops and field that Joey had plowed. The family's future is in jeopardy once again. And then arrives the outbreak of World War I. To ease his family's burden, Albert's father sells Joey to a cavalry officer (Tom Hiddleston), who promises to return Joey to him once the war is over.

The story follows Joey's travels. First, he is on the battlefield with the soldier, and then he is found with another horse in a windmill (where he was left by two soldiers) by a little French brat living with her grandpa on a ranch. Finally, the two souls reunite in the trenches after Albert has finally grown old enough to make it into the war. This is more or less a somewhat unorthodox story of a boy and his dog; although the dog here is not a dog at all, but a horse. A war horse, so they say. Richard Curtis's screenplay, adapted from Michael Morpurgo's 1982 children's novel of the same name, is consistent and tame; although of that last part I can only say that playing it safe does not necessarily work to the film's advantage.

Even though I do not particularly enjoy feel-good dramas most of the time, I walked into this one with moderate expectations; hoping that I would be entertained because after all, it IS Spielberg. Most people will most likely dismiss "War Horse" (whether they intend to or not) as another well-crafted success from the filmmaker, and it's not going to befuddle many people. However, if you're like me and you - as I said - dislike simplicity in movies, you're likely to find this film unnecessarily ponderous and genuinely boring. The pacing is slow - perhaps to establish the characters and all that shit, even though this film has neither a great story nor great characters - but that's not why I found myself checking my watch every so often. I was never absorbed in these people, this time period, and this "inspiring" story. Like most big directors, Spielberg just makes it feel that he's taking the easy way out half of the time. And that just doesn't work with dramas like this. There aren't enough establishing scenes, although I do compliment Spielberg on his decision to not just rush through every detail; since too many movies do that and therefore miss the point of character development entirely. I just wish there were more compelling characters to develop in the first place.

Most people turn in excellent performances. Mullan is mean and uncompromising as Albert's father, Emma Watson is kindly and understanding as his mother, and Thewlis is demeaning as the family's landlord. Irvine as Albert himself is questionable to me, although most people seem to be praising his performance. In all honesty, everything he did and said aggravated the living shit out of me. It's like every word that escapes his British mouth is meant to be sappy or moving or something like that. I don't like movies that pull such risky yet unimpressive and unattractive stunts. So much could have been accomplished if every element of the production didn't feel like it was desperate to be nominated for an Academy Award. "War Horse" is exceptionally acted (for the most part), BEAUTIFULLY shot (and I mean that with the utmost respect), and well-made for a film of its kind; but it did not engage me and Spielberg has once again made a movie that is simply too "straight". I'd love to see something at least somewhat conventional out of the man, but I guess big name directors don't even have the decency to do something like that anymore.

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More War Horse (2011 film) reviews
review by . September 28, 2012
posted in Movie Hype
A long faced look at war
More recently as Steven Spielberg has become a more active producer, his directing credits are becoming less common.      In 2011 he produced the brillant Super 8, one of my favorites, directed by JJ Abrams, the creator, writer and occasional director of Lost, and the recent Star trek. Super 8 is a great nostalgia piece evoking the early eighties, a movie within a movie, and an homage to Spielberg's earliest movies. Spielberg also produced Cowboys and Aliens, a somewhat weird …
review by . July 18, 2012
posted in Movie Hype
Were it not for war, many a man's needs would be unfulfilled.
War Horse - directed by Steven Spielberg   Starring - Jeremy Irvine, Emily Watson and Tom Eddleson   Based on the 1982 novel by Michael Morpurgo      This WWI drama tells the story of a young man in the English countryside - Albert and a remarkable horse.      Albert was a boy when he witnessed the horse's birth and its early years of growth. Then the horse went on the market and, to Albert's amazement, his father-a farmer barely …
review by . December 29, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
Three hours about a horse
WAR HORSE Written by Lee Hall and Richard Curtis Directed by Steven Spielberg Starring Jeremy Irvine, Emily Watson, Tom Hiddleston and fourteen different horses as “Joey”   The other day, I told a friend of mine that I had never in my life ever ridden a horse. She gasped in horror as if I had missed out on one of life’s most rewarding experiences. I’m not against the idea of it, although I can’t imagine horses enjoy that kind of weight on them for hours at …
review by . December 27, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
Star Rating:         War Horse must have been a tremendous challenge for director Steven Spielberg, as the film is a balancing act between two of his well-established styles, namely overt sentimentalism and horrific depictions of war. On paper, this sounds like a recipe for disaster. On screen, it comes across beautifully. Don’t ask me how he made it work, because I have absolutely no idea. All I know is, like Spielberg’s own E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, …
review by . December 22, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
While talking to my friend about War Horse, he told me that he initially thought there was some deeper meaning to the title; it wasn’t until later that he found out that the movie is literally about a horse in a war. Any kind of serious discussion about the movie from that point on was impossible. This makes the review all that more difficult to write because Steven Spielberg takes his story very seriously. You know the one about a horse, in a war.      Steven Spielberg …
review by . January 19, 2012
posted in Movie Hype
In Dartmoor, England a teenage boy named Albert Narracott (Jeremy Irvine), watches in fascination as a thoroughbred colt is born. The baby horse is a beautiful animal and watching the equine run through the fields soon becomes Albert's new hobby. The day comes when the horse is taken to auction. Albert's father, Ted (Peter Mullan) comes to market to buy a plow horse, but when he sees the magnificent beast and spots his landlord smirking on the other side of the fence he ends up paying a …
review by . December 18, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
'War Horse' 'Two Jews On Film' Have Dry Eyes Watching Spielberg's Latest Epic (Video)
         By Joan Alperin Schwartz      Albert (Jeremy Irvine) a young boy, who lives on a rented farm in Devon with his mom (Emily Watson) and his dad (Peter Mullen).  Albert has a horse named Joey and Joey...is one awesome horse and the family couldn't be happier.  Until...          WW! breaks out, and poor Joey is sold to the British cavalry and shipped off to France.  Luckily this reallynice Britis …
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Ryan J. Marshall ()
Ranked #11
It's very likely that the only kind of reviews I'll ever post here are movie reviews. I'm very passionate about film; and at this point, it pretty much controls my life. Film gives us a purpose; … more
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A WW1 Action Film Based On The Award Winning Play
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