There is much that can be said about Steven Spielberg’s latest creation, “War Horse,” but calling it the best picture of the year is not one of them. This melodramatic film, which is up for the highest honor at the Oscars, will leave you rolling your eyes and checking the time, as it seems to be never-ending.
“War Horse” tells the tale of a horse, Joey, who is trained for farm work under the loving guidance of Albert (Jeremy Irvine) after Albert’s drunken father Ted (Peter Mullan) overpays for the animal at auction. Soon, Albert’s family’s farm is in jeopardy, and his father is forced to sell the horse to the British army. This theme of things looking up for Joey then dramatically spiraling downward becomes the incessantly over-dramatic tune of the movie, which turns out to be one of the most cloying and manipulative roller coaster rides of the year.
Over time, Joey gets passed around and about 10 different people take ownership of the horse. Each time he is under a new caregiver, a new war-related factor brings Joey to a new owner until the story, as predictably as can be, goes full circle and Joey ends up with Albert once again.
Instead of just trusting the natural progression of drama in the story or the fine work of the cast, Spielberg instead piles on the artifice, dumping exaggerated musical strings and plenty of panoramic shots of endless rolling hills upon the viewer. Each scene that could potentially become a tearjerker is quickly pacified as one of John Williams’ melancholy pieces fills the theater, and the audience is artificially forced to acknowledge the gravity of the on-screen emotion.
“War Horse” opened on Christmas Day of last year; it made over $7.5 million on opening day and has since grossed about 10 times that. The film is up for six Oscars on Sunday, including best picture, best art direction, best cinematography, best original score, best sound editing and best sound mixing.
Within the best picture category, “War Horse” does not appear to be a strong candidate; it is actually surprising that it was even nominated in this category. Overall, “War Horse” is not one of the best pictures of the year, but it does have a chance at winning some of the other Oscars it is nominated for.
Artistically, “War Horse” strives to combine the best camerawork, sound and acting. Individually, these elements of the film could be fairly said to be successful. It is when you place all these elements together, however, that “War Horse” begins to lose much of the prestige it could have had.
The cinematography of “War Horse” is well deserving of an Oscar. Janus Kamiński, Spielberg’s go-to cinematographer, gives another admirable performance behind the camera capturing the gorgeous farms and rolling hills of Dartmoor, England. All the shots of the multiple horses featured in the film are beautifully done, as are the few battle sequences. In fact, the cinematography may be one of the few things to keep the audience awake during this film.
Williams’ score is well crafted, but it draws a little too heavily from Max Steiner’s score from “Gone with the Wind.” Still, it is emotionally powerful and could potentially score an Oscar.
It is ultimately disappointing that Spielberg is associated with such a flawed film as “War Horse,” especially after some of the beautifully crafted masterpieces he has directed in the past. Come Sunday night, it would be astonishing for “War Horse” to earn the title of best picture. Aspects of the movie are quite commendable, but it is in no way a memorable film that should stand to represent the best of the best movies of this past year.
Charlene Swain can be reached at email@example.com.