Monday, 30 January 2012

Warped War Horse Rides The Wrong Way Round

I think it's ok to critique big Hollywood films as they deserve it simply for being big Hollywood films and for not casting me or any of my friends in them....I usually adore SS, he has a remarkable touch with films, and so I was quite looking forward to seeing how he dealt with this story, I confess to not having seen the play or read the book, so that may validate my opinion as a first time user to the War Horse World or make it irrelevant. Either way I decided in a piqué of boredom to review said film after seeing it with some of the stunt and horse master people involved. This may be my only film review, it depends, as I may never work again afterwards, but if Spielberg sees this and is less than enamoured I intend to claim ignorance, feign indifference and then blame the first person who comments on this piece for hacking into my blog with cruel professionalism......and so, my review on 'War Horse'......

I find that the best films leave me thinking about something. Anything. It doesn't have to be profound, it can be as basic and primal such as replaying the mental image of the hot leading lady dancing and figuring out how best you could get her out of that corset. Or how beautifully it was shot and how it made those squalid ghetto streets of New York, Dublin, Buenos Aires, take your pick, look like a fairytale. Or what you'd do if you were as good looking as Channing Tatum and could dance his moves, or could take a smack in the nut sack like Daniel Craig and not have been prematurely neutered. But War Horse didn't do any of that. All it did was make me wish that bad films knew they were bad films and were cut an hour shorter. That would have been the best part about this film.

I am a massive Spielberg fan. Hell, anybody who's name is autocorrected in Apple Spell Check has to be respected. But apart from that, he is simply one of the greatest film makers to have ever existed. You can't argue with his work and track record, not least because people beg to give HIM money to make their films. But every now and again even the unfallible are proved mortal. War Horse may well be a box office success, because films about horses galloping through a hail of German bullets and bringing people together with the power of love for an animal aren't very prevalent nowadays and everybody loves a good animal man mate love story. But War Horse is basically just not very good.

The story essentially revolves around this young boy, who seems a little simple and too old to not be allowed join the army -he would have fit right into Full Metal Jacket- and his bond with his horse. The horse becomes his by default after his father buys it through pride rather than any fiscal responsibility. Maybe this was to be the most salient point of the film, a pointed look at how many in modern society over stretch themselves and live beyond their means. But no, this was ignored as the horse saves the day by helping till a field that looks perfectly ploughable. It should be to the seasoned farmer anyway. The problem is that there is no real bond with the horse, in fact this horse barely requires breaking in, it's better trained than many police Alsatians after 3 years within about 11 minutes. Of real time. That's fine, it's Disney, I'll go with that. But if that wasn't difficult to achieve then where is the conflict, the part where the boy and animal bond through their mutual respect and drive the story forward. Well there isn't any. The horse gets shipped off to war where it proves to be happy with just about anybody. I don't think I've seen any creature as universally socially popular since Bambi or the guy who wins the lottery and tells the entire pub the next round is on him. People just fawn over this horse, despite the fact he pretty much looks like all the other horses and there's a life or death war going on, people seem able to take the time to spot that he's got that something special. Even non horsey people. I have spent quite an unfeasibly lengthy time recently with horses, and they still generally look the same. But even if you can distinguish them, they all misbehave, not even the best trained ones are that smart and docile with everybody, especially not when there's a war going on around their heads. Not even Big Bird could be that calmly intelligent and he's a touch on the unaware side of things. Unless the horse is actually as simple as the boy and doesn't realise he's even in a war, and so he goes around loving everybody back unconditionally even when surrounded by death and loud noises and hard labour. So the basic crux of the movie, the love between this boy and this horse is irrelevant, and instead we are meant to root for the magic horse that travels europe, survives the war, and beats off tetanus. How the horse didn't get poisoning off filthy barbed wire cutting through his entire body is amazing enough, but after Liam Cunningham gave his trusted medical opinion that the horse was screwed, and then helped buy it for £100 without any medical treatment is pushing my suspension of disbelief. But then again, this horse did get more close ups looking knowing and pensive than all the actors from a period drama combined so he can't die. He's the hero.

The cinematography next, which got Oscar nominated, and I hate criticising such a respected DOP as he is incredible and I can't do an iota of what he does, but why did everything look like it was lit like a cartoon. The whole point of lighting such a film is to make it look like it's not lit. Maybe he was bored and just decided it was easier to bang a few 5-ks in front of everything, but the effect is that it all looks like he has banged a few 5-k lights in front of everything, apart from the final scene which only needed a Terrys Chocolate Orange or Bushmills logo to finish it off. Cheesy ain't the word. I was disappointed, I expected something more epic.

There are some positive points. It was directed by Spielberg, which is always cool, and the boys parents are very well played, but apart from that a lot of the acting is quite stiff, and the foreign accents sound as if they were learned in stage school, they're even worse than mine in Small Island. I will try and think of more positives but at the time of writing I simply wish I could get the three hours of my life back. I just pray that there isn't a sequel. Spielberg I still love you, but you may need to have a sit down with Mr. Nicolas Winding Refn for some pointers as even the greatest can lose their touch sometimes. The various horses who played the horse were good though, and the stunts and cavalry charges were quite epic, although having had an insider track I know there were a lot of horse scenes cut, and stunts that never made it which is disappointing. But I wanted to end on a positive note, so what else, oh, I learned a lot about horses. Which is always nice.


I shall now drink myself into a stupor and await Mr. Winding Refns call to have me play opposite Ryan Gosling in his next film for my show of love for his talents. He is very talented. If anybody knows him they should tell him that. Also who calls their horse 'Joey', should it not be Mystique, Toscano, Diablo or something cool......


  1. I know it may be odd to comment on a post as simple as a movie review. However, I found this post to be anything but simple. It was incredibly well thought out and I enjoyed the unadulterated honesty. You really are very brilliant.

  2. Victoria Sanchez since you are the first commentator you are officially the person I shall blame if I never get cast in a Spielberg film.....I blame you.....and we've even met but sometimes life just works out that way.....thanks for being my alibi......

  3. I meant 'never even met', but auto correct and my computer has decided different...surreal perhaps....

  4. Let's hope Mr. Spielberg never finds that review :D I don't think that anyone who reads your review will be able to watch that film with a serious mind. I was almost inclined to see it (because of David Thewlis who I can watch drawing smiley faces with a sharpie and I won't get bored) but I guess you ruined it now for me :P

    Oh well.

  5. if Spielberg does come after you, you can blame me for hacking you and you are most definetly better looking then Channing Tatum! I Have to agree with you about the movie, I think the expectations I had for War Horse were so high that it would never have truly made me happy but in the end I just didn't connect with the characters, I even wanted the horse to die just to prove it wasn't so special but alas I was let down. Its a 3 star movie at best but from Spielberg I expected much more, he's a genius when it comes to directing and I'm sure that his next film will be brilliant, even a genius has to have a bad day or in this case a bad movie

  6. Oh a 'seen the play; not read the book; not yet seen the film but have experienced the whole "I so wish you (Spielberg) wouldn't film-one-schmaltzy-scene-too-many"' person... I laughed the whole way through your gloriously chagrined review. Someday you and I will meet, and drink, and laugh with total irreverence, and reverence, about the whole film thing. In the meantime, thank you. It was fun to share. And here's to fewer Technicolor sunsets. :D

  7. I too, was not convinced about this movie. War horses (yeah I read up on it via Wikipedia) never came home happy and lively. They usually were mentally damaged by the sights and sounds (more the sounds, I'd imagine). But like you said, it's Disney, so we can't have kids seeing animals emotionally compromised by violence. It looks like a very stunning visual piece, but I suppose that's it. If your future blockbuster film career is compromised by this review, then the world will be missing a great character actor. Or actor, in general.

  8. I haven't forgiven Spielberg yet for what he did to Indiana Jones in that last horrible, horrible waste of time and crystal skulls.

    They used the same horse providers that Merlin does, right? I thought I read somewhere the horses were doing double duty as shooting on both was happening at the same time.

    I'm all for reading honest movie reviews that aren't from "established" critics so more please! Heck, it's the only reason I have a Blogspot - so I can post my own [all of which are horrible and not nearly as up to date as they should be]. Seen lots of films lately; have written very few words about them.

  9. Haven't seen the movie yet, this does seem like a review I'd write after seeing a movie that would have offended my sense of logic and the like. It happens. A lot. Maybe it's me...

    Well, I've been around horses since I was little and I do think there are some great 'characters' out there, but it doesn't make them miracle horses. I'd have to see it for myself, but I think it'd be impossible for 'war horses' to come out unscatched out of WWI. Even my horse, which is quite the smart cookie and a friendly dear too, would probably need a custom made horse strait jacket after all that trauma. IF he'd make it out alive!(How many did actually come back? Hmmmm. I need numbers.)

    I wanted to see this one, I might wait for the DVD now. But I can't completely hate on the movie, as Benedict Cumberbatch is in it. Hope his part wasn't too bad?

    P.S. My horse is named Tristan. Hope you approve, hahahaha.

  10. Hah! I might have planned to take my son to see this movie, but now I'm afraid I might die laughing in the theater as I reminisce about your review. RedBox, it is.

  11. Well, I liked it but it was very...overblown. It sort of lifted off like a rocket into stratospheric levels of sentimentality and unless you managed to clamber aboard I think it probably left you behind. But then I never got on board with E.T. so maybe this is making up for all those years where people loved that movie and I sat there bored stupid by it. Everyone drops a pass sometimes I guess.

  12. This might very well be one of the sharpest, most hilarious reviews of that movie that I've read... and absolutely on target.

    I think I like Spielberg as a director, although I still can't forgive him for A.I. Artificial Intelligence and The Lost World: Jurassic Park, for example.

    As a producer, my list of disappointing movies from him grows bigger, but that's not the point here.

    I absolutely believe that, for time to time, SS got an amazing script and made a heck of a movie. And many others, he just missed the shot like so many other people.

    So, all and all I would say that I like SS work in general (and very much in very specific cases) and--most importantly--I love horses.
    Yet what you wrote is pretty much what I thought of the film.

    Oh, and my horse's name is Stetson (like the hats). It's way cool and I stand by it.


    PS: Would you please be more generous with your commas? English is my second/third language and you've got me confused at some points. Just saying...

  13. ... This review was so funny that it'd almost make me want to see the movie. Except for the part where I've already seen it and would have fell asleep if it weren't for the stunts. Thank gosh for the stunts.

    I found I usually disagreed a lot with the Oscar nominations (but from what I've learned of how people get their movie nominated, it doesn't surprise me that much). However I usually agree with the Oscar winners, so I'm gonna take a wild guess and say the nominations probably won't go further than that. (Yes, I can see the future in my dreams too...) If they do, I'll be terribly disappointed.

  14. Eoin, you Sir, are a brilliant writer. Although, I may have to go see this film now to see what you're actually on about with it. And seeing you perform with Ryan Gosling would be amazing! :D

  15. I had no desire to see this film, I am scared of horses. And war now I think about it. But living in surrey I am more likely to meet a horse so I focussed on that.

    Now I have to watch it to see whether I agree with you or not. I cant just go 'oh he's eoin he has swishy hair, he must be right'. I can already spot one glaring error in the review which makes me think the rest might be fallible. What if its actually really good? what if 'terry's chocolate orange' is just the sort of lighting I love?

    Actually what I might do is read the book in the light of my boys' 'torch with the power of 10 million candles' with an orange filter over it. It will be less hassle as I wont need to organise a babysitter. I can always sit on the rocking horse whilst I read it.

    The only question I have is did the horses in war horse do as good a job acting as the 'deer that was gwen ' in Merlin? It sounds like the stunts were harder but I am sure they didn't need to convey such a massive chunk of the plot with just a couple of soulful stares and a nibble of grass.

  16. I haven't seen the film yet, although I have met Michael Morpurgo (he's a lovely bloke, very down to earth).
    Really well written blog, but you made me smile because you said "I find that the best films leave me thinking about something" and then you went on to write a massive blog about the film - so even though you didn't like it, it certainly got you thinking :)
    I'm planning to take my daughter at the weekend, but will make sure I'm armed with coffee and popcorn, just in case...

  17. This film obviously did leave you thinking about something! So its not all bad? War Horse is a childrens book by a very good childrens author, i'd kind of assumed this was a childrens film that adults may enjoy. I enjoyed your review, didn't really want to see the film anyway as for me horses are not that endearing, however i may be forced to take my own children at some stage, so will go with an open mind. Sarah.

  18. My very first comment to you is, I'm from Buenos Aires and was surprised and moved by reading how you described my city as a fairy tale (I know that's not what you actually did, but I like reading and re-interpreting things the way I like... yeah, very convenient)
    Ha! it was so very witty of you ;) and yes, you have got to be brave to stand up to Spielberg... but when things go wrong, we just have to accept them, even if you're SS.
    Haven't seen the film yet, I am going to because I usually watch all of the Academy Awards nominees to decide which movie or actor has been popularly overrated... so far I thought it was "The Descendants" but I guess I'll have to wait till I see themn all to decide!
    And yes I agree with one of the comments above, it would be nice seeing you next to Ryan Gosling =p

    Love from Buenos Aires

    Maru (@Maruhita)

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  20. Although I am not much for animal films and this movie was not even on my radar at all (SS as director notwithstanding), I always enjoy your posts so I still had to read this. And while it reinforced my non-interest in seeing the film, I definitely agree with your alibi -- it is a very well thought out review and you are one brilliant (and sexy as hell -- because talent IS sexy) writer =)

  21. Hello Eoin, I know you will forgive me for not reading this just yet, since I plan to watch the film, and I very ,very rarely read reviews before I watch any film, as I want to sit in the blackened theatre with an "innocent" mind and allow myself to get immersed in the story...

    I love to read making-of stories, though, you know set-visits, behind-the-scenes moments, reports on special effects, stunt work, you know, that kind of stuff...

    But since Mr Spielberg has been a directing genius for quite some time now, I am hopeful that I will like the film. Plus: the cast is amazing. And I love John Williams' scores. He's the composer for every Spielberg film (if memory serves), and I expect him to deliver great work (though I believe "Jaws" was his masterpiece. Two notes and he created the ultimate fear... da-dam... da-dam...)

    take care, Jas

  22. The real people I know who've seen it, which includes you, (as opposed to the people who write the reviews they quote in the trailers) have not liked it. They are the ones I trust, so I'll skip this one since I generally don't like movies like this anyway. I'm currently trying to find one that won't attempt to make me cry like a little girl.

    A much better movie, available on DVD at least in the US, is Another Earth. There are no horses or war in it, however.

  23. Noooo!! I have been waiting for ages to see that movie. Why is it every movie where a horse is involved are rubbish? I hoped this one would be good since the trailer seemed nice.

    I'm still gonna see it though.. if only becaus this review was so brilliant that I got to see for myself.=P