I went to see The Dark Knight Rises at the weekend. This is not a review of that film. That will come.
In Tesco yesterday I spotted a copy of ‘War Horse’ for sale. This made me spiral into a fit of bilious rage from which I have recently recovered. I want to put finger tips to keys to discuss the worst film I’ve ever seen.
(6 months after it’s release. Way to be topical Cricket.)
I decree that everyone should go to the cinema alone. It’s the only way to recognise a truly awful film. You know the way; you sit silently seething through a film, enduring it only for the end when you can turn to your friend and release a vitriol of criticism, only to be cut off by their exultations on how much they loved it. Not wanting to be a curmudgeon, you begrudgingly pick out tolerable moments to mumble about appreciatively.
Not so with War Horse. I saw it alone and so can deliver a type of review that only watching a film alone can generate.
During the glorious opening scenes panning over the Devon countryside, I quelled feelings of unease at the fact that each shot seemed to have been saturated with a saccharine hue and actually enjoyed the magnificent scenery. However minutes into the dialogue it became glaringly apparent that the natural splendour would be the only element with any substance in this film.
Lovably flawed, alcoholic father Ted Narracott (Peter Mullane,) spends all his money on a horse that everyone says is worthless (Hint: He’s not.) Upon returning to his ramshackle but bucolic farm Ted’s wife (Emily Watson) demands the horse, named Joey, be returned. However breathlessly earnest son Albert (Jeremy Irvine,) instantly recognises the powerful strength in Joey and vows to train him. Thus begins the story of a ruddy young boy from Devon’s transcendent bond with his ‘orse.
As World War One breaks out Joey is sold to the British army and begins his journey through the Great War; a journey through which we are mercilessly expected to sit.
Heavy handed would be too understated a word to describe Spielburg’s narrative technique. The audience is treated as inane half-wits, who need overly theatrical music to signal when to feel happy and sad and are expected to believe that every man (obviously apart from any German) is a damn decent chap underneath it all. Character development is non-existent, with any attempt at presenting character flaws appearing as either caricatures (villainous landlord, mean German,) or excused by some overly laboured point. Alcoholic father isn’t an alcoholic, he’s just cut up from the war, how do you know? Just look at his “pity me” face. Viewers could easily disengage any form of cognisance on arrival to the cinema as Spielburg will gladly supply direction on what to think and feel whilst watching this film. A more subtle touch might have been to emblazon what he wants his message to be on the forehead of each individual moviegoer. The dialogue is woeful, at times so cringey that I felt as if my face was going to swallow itself and the acting is so contrived it went beyond silly and into a tragic.
With little to no structure the narrative of War Horse flaps like a dirty hubcap, with Spielburg trying, and failing to construct the film like a series of vignettes linked by Joey’s voyage. Audience members might emerge from the screen bruised; such is the force with which the tacky symbolism and insipid themes are beaten into them.
Nauseating, cheap and soulless, War Horse is the cinematic equivalent of commemorative 9/11 plate; a groan-inducing piece of junk which begs the question: “Why would anyone make that?”