Let’s not beat around the bush – War Horse, Steven Spielberg’s return to serious filmmaking since 2005’s political thriller Munich (Indiana Jones and Tintin don’t really count as serious. Hell, no.), is sugar fluff. Although a well-made sugar fluff. But it’s so thuddingly and crushingly sentimental, you’d think either a) Spielberg has gone too soft for his age, or b) this movie is shadow-sponsored by tissue corporations, capitalising on multiplexes flooding with tears. It’s mechanically devised to push tearjerking buttons on below-par intelligent human beings, squeezing every tearduct machine it could grab hold. And for those who haven’t shed a single tear, basically you’re a cold-hearted cynical bastard with the inability to feel some humanity. Just sayin’.
But this is exactly the prototype War Horse is geared for – sweeping, melodramatic war film for families who haven’t seen enough war films or even good melodramas. The problem here is that it’s spectacularly buried in clichés, and the head-smackingly unbelievable conceit that we’re supposed to feel some empathy with a horse who learns all about empathy, compassion, life’s lessons of courage and fortitude. A fucking horse! And if that’s not enough sugar bullshit for you, horse Joey seems to be more important than the thousands of soldiers who spilled blood on the trenches. The British and the Nazis even stop killing each other just because of the fucking horse. By the way, on the background the war is raging and it’s all pretty bloodless, and this is from the same man who made Schindler’s List and Saving Private Ryan.
Giving credit to guy, War Horse is sometimes beautifully and breathtakingly filmed and technically meticulous, especially the war scenes which really stamps Spielberg’s mastery in epic moments (although this does not work up to a scratch alongside Saving Private Ryan‘s bruising Omaha beach scene). Even the ending appears like a nod to the golden Technicolor age films such as Gone With The Wind – the west county Devon sky literally bathed in orange glow (that’s colour-grading, folks). But it’s the horse scenes in the film’s first half that really bakes the cake and smudges the icing on your face, along with Jeremy Irvine’s naive, one-dimensional simpleton farmboy. The two are burdened with having to plow an entire field with lots of rocks, with David Thewlis spewing some nonsense screenplay lines by Richard Curtis (the guy who wrote Notting Hill, what d’you expect) and the entire villagers magically appearing on site to cheer/hoot the boy and his fairy tale horse. Then it starts to rain, suddenly out of nowhere. Of course, it’s fucking England! One minute it’s blazing sunshine, next it’s chucking it down. Spielberg, turn that bloody sprinkler off.
Your enjoyment of War Horse depends on your taste in cinematic sugar fluff. If your film diet consists of Disney full-fat calories, then you’ll lap this up. But for the celluloid-conscious, this is nothing but an exercise in schmaltz featuring an equine-obsessed simpleton and his romantic lover horse. By the way, this is made for kids, so there’s no French kissing.