War Horse (2011)

Reviewer: Charity Bishop  

Sometimes I have to wonder if Stephen Spielberg is dead-set on making the most depressing movies of the decade. He has certainly succeeded in the painfully long, abhorrently abusive War Horse, a film based on a novel that if I had my way never would have been written in the first place. It's Black Beauty all over again, only worse this time around.

Young Albert (Jeremy Irvine) is delighted when his father impetuously bids to win a beauty of a Thoroughbred stallion rather than bring home the workhorse his mother anticipated. He and the horse, whom he calls Joey, soon become inseparable... but financial woes threaten to tear them apart. Joey succeeds as a plow horse but nothing can stop the rains from ruining their crops... and when the army rolls into town, Albert's father has no choice but to sell the horse to Captain Nicholls (Tom Hiddleston). Before the horse knows it, he is plunged into a world of war, of trenches, of explosions, of starving Frenchmen and near-death experiences. Meanwhile, at home and then in the war itself, Albert holds out hope that one day the two will see one another again.

How many ways can I express my hatred for this movie? By the end of it, I was so mad I went off on a ten minute rant to my cat about how the idiot who wrote the book should be shot. Is there a category for the most depressing stories ever written? If so, this one would win hands down. There are occasional moments of brevity, but really the plot just goes from one horrible thing to another. I'm an unapologetic animal lover, and it was all I could do to watch horses be flogged, shot, and worked to death in the trenches. By the time Joey runs through a battlefield and becomes tangled up in the wire, I was downright mad. Even the beautiful black stallion Joey befriends in the encampment doesn't make it to the end.

Yes, the cast is terrific. It includes, among others, Benedict Cumberbatch, Emma Watson, David Thewlis, and others. The music is beautiful, the camera work memorable, and it does hit a lot of emotional notes. But at the risk of giving too much of the plot away, should you choose to rent this terrible film that left me wanting to shoot myself, know that nearly all the people Joey encounters die at some point. Spielberg spares us the impact but not the pan-and-scan of battlefields lined with bodies (horse and human), not two fearful teenagers being shot for cowardice, and not our heroes losing their best friends in a final sick twist. If I could rewind time and never rent this, I'd be happy about it. Instead, I have to live with the knowledge that two and a half hours of my life were spent resenting that with all the uplifting stories Spielberg could tell with a multi-million dollar budget, he chose this one instead.

Sexual Content: None.

Language: Scattered mild profanities ("hell").

Violence: Huge amount of war-related violence, most of it implied; we never see anyone shot down, just men's bodies littering the ground; animal mistreatment is frequent throughout the film -- they are beaten, shot (off-screen), worked to death, forced to drag heavy artillery up hills, etc. The camera pans over hundreds of dead horses scattered across battlefields, in open ditches; a horse runs through barbed wire and gets hopelessly tangled up.

Charity's Novels!

Get caught up on The Tudor Throne series before the final installment this summer!