I can’t resist quoting a line from a review in the Boston Globe: “War Horseis the best film of the year. The year, unfortunately, is 1942.” First, let me assure you that I am a sentimental fool. I often cry at sad movies; hell, I can cry at happy movies. But I really resent being asked to cry every ten minutes during a 2½ hour movie, and be reminded of it over and over by swelling John Williams music cues. Spielberg is totally out of control here, every hyper-sentimental, super-manipulative, nakedly heartstring-stomping thing I hate about his films (and I love a great many of them) amped up to laughable extremes. I have literally never seen a film this soaked in schmaltz, not even in 1942. Love at first sight …four times! Tearful separations. Kidnapping, forced bondage, slavery, peril in battle, heroic plowing of the bottom forty … what’s that you say? How does plowing fit in? Why, didn’t you know this was about a horse? An apparently supernatural horse, no less, able to do things no horse can really do, such as understand English instructions and carry them out on the first try, and bond so tightly with another (male) horse that he rides to his rescue multiple times.
It’s really awful, the silly depths we sink to here. Joey the half-thoroughbred makes his appearance in the auction ring, where a silly old man pays an outrageous price for him just to spite his landlord, than takes him home where his wife points out he has just doomed the family farm with his booze-swilling, spendthrift gesture. Are we supposed to be on the side of the drunken dreamer? I wasn’t. I wanted to kick the old geezer into next month, when the rent is due. Naturally, the farmer’s silly son falls in love with the horse. For a farmboy to get that attached to a farm animal is not wise, to say the least, so he’s following in his dumb father’s footsteps. Then the horse is shipped off to war.
Everyone who encounters this horse, loves this horse. He changes hands half a dozen times, and all the owners love him. They are willing to go AWOL and disobey orders. His last guardian is a German artilleryman who practically breaks down in great Teutonic sobs when the horse is mistreated. This, while hundreds of thousands of his fellow soldiers are dying horrible deaths. At last he’s brought back to the British lines, and guess who’s there? Of course it’s the farmboy. And a doctor is brought out of the hospital bulging with gas victims … to treat the fucking horse! It’s a horse, goddam it! Shoot the fucking horse and get back there with your patients!
I cold go on and on with chapter and verse this great big horse turd, but I’ve wasted too much time already. This was originally a children’s book, so maybe I’m being a little too harsh … but only a little. It then became a stage production, and I would dearly love to see that. It used life-sized horse puppets that have to be seen to be believed, absolutely lifelike in every movement. That’s a bit of stage magic that can work … on the stage. This was a misbegotten project, never should have been made.