Monday, March 5, 2012

War Horse

War Horse
Grade: C
Cast: Jeremy Irvine, Emily Watson
Director: Steven Spielberg
Free Admission Granted

Last year, I wrote a great deal about the return of sentimentality to the American cinema. You could see it in True Grit or the ending of The Town. They were built less on rational sense than emotional sense.

Well, it was just a theory. But even I never expected War Horse.

Steven Spielberg’s new one is either a Heaven of sentimentality or a hell of inconceivable character motivation and emotion. The cynic in me wants to dismiss it as a fairy tale of trench warfare, or E.E: The Extra Equestrial. The romantic in me wants to accept it for the well-done sentimental story that it is.

War Horse is being noted for its John Ford scenery, sugared cinematography (by Spielberg regular Janusz Kaminski) and its affecting touch. Thematically, it’s a little bit like Robert Bresson’s Au Hasard Baltasar, about a donkey Christ figure who bears the suffering of the world around him. A horse travels through the First World War only to witness and live through tragic suffering, coming away with burdensome wounds of his own.

On one level it is the story of an Irish boy who is way too into his horse. It’s Twilight but with Bella as a horse. The courage of the colt and drive are established early, as he plows an un-plowable field to save the family farm. Sold into the army, circumstance and death force him to wander the countryside from owner to owner, dodging bullets and tragedy, on his way home.

There are two terrific scenes, the first an exciting, tragic cavalry charge into a German unit. The second has an English and German soldiers cooperating in no man’s land to release Joey from a tangle of barbed wire. They both display War Horse at its best: simple, memorable, moving.

In spite of its good moments, who is War Horse for? Do you take children to a horsey movie if it has images of battlefield aftermaths? Is it for the adults who will find its emotional overdrive – punctuated by John Williams’ typically overpowering score – simple or corny?

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