I have very high expectations of a movie when it’s directed by Steven Spielberg, though I was skeptical about this one based on the fact that the protagonist is a horse. The film follows a boy and his horse (well mostly the horse, really) from the birth of the horse through the end of World War I. It’s based off a children’s novel, and maybe that’s what was wrong with it. It kind of had the kid gloves on, despite some pretty heavy themes, and I’m not sure what the intended audience was. Children, I think, wouldn’t enjoy it, and on the other hand, I felt like it was altogether too light to elicit any real emotion from me.
Let’s address the movie-making: it was okay, I suppose. I think they got the most out of real animals as can be expected. When it wasn’t totally overdone with the way a given scene was filmed, I actually felt like the horse was emoting a bit. Also, Spielberg was launching the sappiness missiles left and right, with designed heart-wrenching scene after designed heart-wrenching scene. Don’t get me wrong, I fall for the sap all the time, but it loses all value (and effect) when it’s so thin and overused.
And then there was the lack of blood. Whether it was confusion over intended audience or the quest for a PG-13 rating, the lack of blood is a very dubious choice. I’d heard about it, but it took seeing it in the movie to understand how strangely jarring the lack of blood is in fully violent scenes of warfare. It’s a particular shame when we can look to Spielberg’s other work to just how well he captures the horrors the baser depths of humanity have to offer. And I guess I just don’t get the point of exploring a thing like war if you’re going to make a movie for adults, but minimize the ugliness of the thing. There was one excellent scene near the end of the movie– good enough that it made the rest of the movie worth sitting through.
The acting performances ran hot and cold. The bad: all the kids from “back home” England. Particularly awful, unfortunately, was the human “lead” Albert Narracott, played by Jeremy Irvine. On the opposite end of the spectrum, French Actor Niels Arestrup was just superb as Grandfather. I also thought the brief appearance of Benedict Cumberbatch was very good, particularly because it was so different from the other times I’ve seen him. John Williams’ score was uneven, very good at times and very weak at others.
I didn’t go in with high expectations, and the movie wasn’t completely awful… But even so, I come away disappointed, because of who was involved and the potential power of the themes it was trying to explore. It just didn’t deliver well, and felt almost mailed in. I feel like a guy as talented as Spielberg could put a movie of this quality out twice a year and not break a sweat… Ultimately I’m looking for a lot more when he’s in the director’s chair.
2 1/2 Stars