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Friday, December 30, 2011

War Horse (Release Date: 12-25-2011)

        There is one reason why War Horse exists, and that is to win Oscars. There's no point in beating around the bush, because the film itself makes no buts about it. From the opening shots, sweeping aerial views of perfectly green pastures, to the rusted golden hue of the film's final moments, there's nothing about this movie that is unassuming or small. Here we have STEVEN SPIELBERG, WORLD WAR I, and TWO AND A HALF HOURS OF FOOTAGE. This is big entertainment at its biggest, overwhelmingly concerned with its status as an epic, looking to emulate the massive melodramas that took home the bulk of Oscars throughout the 40's. This movie lays awake at night dreaming, no, LUSTING after tiny golden men, willing to do anything just to finally hold them. This might be the way to win awards, but this is not, my friend, a very good way to make a movie.

        Our story begins on a magical day, where the sun and the plains and the sky all gleam and glisten with surreal beauty, when a mystical, awe-inspiring horse is born. Young lad Albert (Jeremy Irvine) is taken by the beauty of the event, falling in love with the beast, and when his father (Peter Mullen) foolishly buys the steed as a plow-horse, the boy promises to train the savior-figure pony. He names him Joey. Joey is a special horse. We know this because Joey does special things, and when he does them, he shines, basking in a special glow, with everyone around making special faces at him. But due to rampant misfortune, the family is forced to sell the poor horse to the British army, a fate that we know saddens Joey because of the longing look in his magical horse eyes. This, however, does no stop him from continuing to inspire mirth and awe in all who meet him, falling under the care of a French farm family, a pair of youthful deserters, and some evil, eeeeeeeevil Germans.

        This isn't just a film capable of prompting snide remarks: This movie NEEDS to be made fun of, it REQUIRES of us that we laugh in its face. There are so many problems with the flick, too many to name in one short article, but let's start with the easiest to deduce: This is a completely soulless, passion-free effort. It introduces us to character after character, all of them perfect cardboard cut-outs of stock types that we've seen a million times before (Drunk War-Vet Dad, Precocious Pre-Teen Girl, Over-Bearing-Mother-With-Good-Intentions, World-Weary Older Man, Honorable Military Captain, Greedy, Merciless Landowner... Stop me when you've heard enough), each as impossible to care about as the last. I understand that War Horse is trying to represent a bygone era of pre-snark earnestness, but it does so by going through the motions in the most unimaginative way possible, like making lousy photo-copy of an annoyingly perfect portrait, and calling it art. Movies like How Green Was My Valley, or All Quiet on the Western Front, great as they probably were in their day, can feel more tacky than emotionally gratifying in today's day and age. Seeing all of the cliches from this outdated form of cinema get lined up and apathetically knocked down like dominoes is almost as frustrating as it is numbingly boring. Almost...

        Here's what I will say in favor of War Horse: It's battle sequences are strong (albeit, short lived), and the episodic nature of the film helps its two and a half hour runtime pass slightly less painfully than one might expect. Also, I can imagine a really, really fun drinking game being made out of it. And that's it. Everything else on display is primed and ready for the Five Dollar box at Wall Mart. John Williams' score is quite possibly the most putrid of the whole year, cloying and obvious and over-bearing at every turn, and the picturesque beauty of the landscapes is undermined by its overpowering desire to be noticed, not to mention more than a hint of artifice. There's not a single line of good dialogue in the film, and despite this fact, screenwriters Lee Hall and Richard Curtis clear out space for lengthy, empty, Oscar-clip-ready speeches about Valor, Bravery, Courage, and whatever other charged words you can think of that the Academy would just eat up. What's more, the idolization of the Horse is just plain creepy, cinematographer Janusz Kaminski filming him as a golden god, a figure to be worshipped, and the fetishism of it is off-putting in a sort of twisted way. The fact that Albert can think of nothing but the horse, tells everyone about the horse, carries a portrait of the horse into war, only makes the film's affection for the mammal that much stranger.

         But enough allusions to beastiality: It's much more fun to laugh mockingly, scornfully at the film's wrong-headed attempt at transcendence. The cast and crew of this movie though they had the exact blue-print on how to make an Oscar winner, and they followed the format without a hint of variance, care, or an ounce of true meaning. There's no love in the thing, and the fact that it was created for the sole purpose of being loved makes this fact that much more jarring. You know that 5 minute stretch at the end of every romantic comedy, the one where they make grand-standing declarations of their love as you cringe, and feel ashamed for having kind of liked the movie up to that point? Imagine two and a half straight hours of that, and you have War Horse. This movie thinks that the Academy (and you, for that matter) is the biggest group of suckers, morons, and idiots on the planet, and its willing to bet the house on that hunch. Please, Oscar, don't let it be right.

Grade: D-

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