If you haven’t seen this movie, it is exactly—precisely—the movie you think it is: A three-hanky weeper about a boy and his horse, separated by cruel circumstance and eventually reunited by a benevolent, Spielbergian universe. OK, I just revealed the ending of the movie, in a sense, but I didn’t put a spoiler alert on it because, frankly, if you’re watching this movie and think for one moment that the boy isn’t going to eventually get back together with his horse, then you have obviously never heard of Steven Spielberg and never seen a movie about horses. Or about anything else. If you are one of the three or four people on the planet for whom this is true, then I apologize for spoiling the ending.
For the rest of us, though, any pleasure derived from War Horse comes not from the discovery of how the commonplace story unfolds, but from the particulars of the filmmaking. It’s no secret that Spielberg is probably as good a cinematic technician as we are ever likely to have. Overall, his movies look and feel better—more fluid, more composed, more (yeesh…) magical—than just about anyone else’s, ever. That doesn’t mean they are the best; but it does mean that he has what might be an unmatched intuitive understanding of the medium. The guy thinks and feels through a camera lens. Which probably makes him a pain in the ass as a human being, but it makes him a genius as a cinematic artist—albeit one who struggles at times finding worthy vehicles for his prodigious abilities.
War Horse, as a vehicle, ranks well below the greats (Schindler’s List, E.T., Close Encounters, Raiders of the Lost Ark, etc.) but certainly rises just as far above the stinkers (1941, Always, Crystal Skull, the 2nd Jurassic Park). In short, it’s two and a half hours of ravishing landscapes, astonishingly photographed set-pieces (really), and countless sniffle-inducing vignettes, all set to orchestral crescendos and sporting an antique, oddly charming vein of Disney-ism. Some nice work by the ever-impressive Emily Watson, David Thewlis and Eddie Marsan, and a whole lot of perfectly serviceable but workmanlike performances from pretty much everyone else. Oh, and of course the horse. I have no idea how you coax a performance out of a horse, but whatever it takes, someone certainly did it here.
If you’re going to watch it, watch it on a BIG screen.
© 2012 dondi demarco