A person of substance and experience has seen War Horse and isn’t eating the oats like the others. He got in touch this morning. Here’s his report:
“I have a fairly high tolerance for schmaltz and sentiment. I bought into The Blind Side heart and soul. And as someone who dearly wishes that Steven Spielberg would get back on his game and deliver a winner, I was rooting for War Horse, especially as a potentially high-quality family film.
“But dear Lordy…
“My guard was up immediately when the film opened with the hoariest of cliches — a smitten lad beckoning a testy steed with an apple. When the mustachioed landlord came after the poor family for their back rent, he did everything but twirl his whiskers. By the time the comic-relief goose started squawking, it was clear that Spielberg not only wasn’t raising his bar, he was settling for the trite and true and nothing new.
“He does get probably the most important elements pretty much right: The horses are the best actors on the screen even if one flashes a Barrymore-esque profile shot that would be ridiculous in a silent movie. And the battlefield sequences, especially a cavalry charge massacre and encounters in the trenches, are duly rousing, harrowing and authentic — though not enough to top Paths of Glory or All Quiet on the Western Front.
“But tonally, War Horse is at odds with itself. It seems to be trying for almost a folk-tale feel, somewhat mythic, and then asks us to flinch at the horrors of war. The single most egregious shot is when a spinning windmill coyly hides an act of violence unnecessarily, perhaps protecting the family-friendly rating.
“Even a top-of-the-line cast can’t enliven the material when what they are asked to do is so predictable. That said, for some reason I never felt its length. But I think I was mostly eager to see just what Spielberg was going to try to get away with next.
“I don’t know what’s happened, but the man who made Saving Private Ryan didn’t make this.”