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War Horse (Touchstone Pictures/Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures, PG-13)

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film war-horse_smWar Horse is manipulative, dumb, obvious, and cloying.

 

film war-horse_500

Do you like to audibly say “awww…” while in movie theaters? Do you love it when movies try really hard to get you to cry? Do you like to be spoon-fed pap over the holiday season? Have I found the movie for you!

War Horse, Steven Spielberg’s second film being released the week of Christmas this year (the first is The Adventures of Tintin, a much more successful and less insulting film), is manipulative, dumb, obvious, and cloying. In fairness, there are a few things to recommend it, though they’re all relatively inconsequential. All of the important aspects of the film fail miserably.

Based on the very successful (and unseen by me, though I’ve heard interesting things about it) play of the same name, War Horse tells the story of a horse named Joey that winds up, you know, inspiring love and changing the world against a backdrop of World War I. One of the few things the movie does well (which, presumably, the play did well before it) is that the horse is the main character here: He’s the one with the story arc, and all of his numerous masters are performances that support his main role.

Joey is relatively wild when he is bought at auction and trained by the young, determined Albert (Jeremy Irvine). Next, he’s bought to take into war by a young soldier, then found by an elderly French man (played by A Prophet’s Niels Arestrup; it’s nice to see him again but he deserves much better than this—that’s a statement that can be applied to most of the film’s uniformly good, entirely undeserved cast) and kept to keep his young granddaughter company. And so on. That’s fine, but more insulting is that everywhere Joey goes, he seems to encounter friendly, English-speaking Germans (come to think of it, practically all of the characters often encounter helpful, English-speaking Germans, despite the fact that the movie seems to align the viewer with the Allies). Also, he wades through decidedly PG-13-rated war sequences, which are little more than an insult after the incredible representations of war in the otherwise unworthy Spielberg film Saving Private Ryan.

Ugh, and it’s so long, too, so if you’re not into it you’re going to be stuck there for a while—its runtime is two hours and 26 minutes. A few pretty landscape shots and Arestrup’s round, old grandpa aren’t enough to carry you for that long. Admittedly I’m sure there will be an audience for this film—there always is for this type of dreck—but henceforth we’ll call War Horse’s target audience “stupid people,” as that’s what you have to be to buy into this irritating underdog story about a pretty horse that overcame the odds to become a war hero. | Pete Timmermann

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