War Horse (2 1/2 out 5 Stars)
Directed by Steven Spielberg (Schindler's List, Munich, Catch me if you can)
Written by Richard Curtis (Love Actually) and Lee Hall (Billy Elliot)
Starring: Jeremy Irvine, Emily Watson
War Horse feels as though it were made to win an Oscar not to tell a moving story about a young boy and his horse during World War I. Steven Spielberg can make magic happen in films, but this film feels as though the "magic" is forced.
The film follows the story of a Horse who is bought at an auction and named Joey by its owner Albert (Irvine). Albert's family is poor and when his father buys Joey he uses the money that is needed to help pay the rent for the land they have. Albert forms a bond with Joey and together these two work to make sure the land is plowed and form a friendship. Joey's father decides he must sell the horse to pay to keep their home, and Joey's horse is bought by a soldier going off to fight in World War I. The horse survives the different elements and becomes intertwined in different stories making an impact on its owners for being strong, determined, and a creature that battles out its underdog status to become a symbol of hope.
This all sounds incredibly moving. The problem is that inter-spliced between Spielberg's great direction and Janusz Kaminski's utterly stunning cinematography there there is a story that feels disjointed. Within each different story of this film the connection is this horse, and within each story the horse represents some different emotional context. The problem with this is that some of the stories work, and some of them fall flat. I liked watching the bond between Albert and Joey this felt real, but also cliche within the context of the first story. The best story within the film was when a British and German soldier come together to help cut Joey from barbed wire. This moment was incredibly poignant, but also felt out place. The film does not completely register on an emotional level that it should.
While it never registered as a film its interesting that this was one of the most successfully crafted plays on Broadway. The play won 5 Tony awards including Best Play, and is still running on Broadway because of its incredible success. The play uses puppets for the horses which is obviously different from the film, but what makes this successful on Broadway and not as a film? The play hit at something a little bit more genuine while the film forces the emotion onto the audience.
When you adapt material from being something real like a play, the creative teams needs to make up for the different emotional journey the audience will experience. Plays create in an intense live experience where the audience feels the genuine struggle because the actor presents these emotions vividly in front of them.
Spielberg 's direction was solid but his films are not evolving. War Horse feels like a classic film without the great quality. I wanted to like this film, in fact, I tired to like this film more than I did. Yet the film feels forced and as if it were trying to force emotional experiences rather than let them happen naturally.