If you plan to see a movie this holiday season, by all means see THE DESCENDANTS if you haven't already. If you have, the next best option is THE ARTIST, an amazing film that recreates the era of silent films. Or if you want to take your kids to a film, THE MUPPETS will entertain you as well as them.
But I can't recommend Steven Spielberg's WAR HORSE.
Like many people I admire Spielberg and I've enjoyed most of the films he's made over his long career.
But I have to say that WAR HORSE is a disappointment.
The cinematography and editing are masterful but the characters are one dimensional stereotypes and the story is utterly predictable.
The love of a boy for his horse is a rather syrupy subject to begin with. But in "war horse" the sentimentality is pushed to extremes. And the plot will seem familiar to anyone who's seen more than a handful of movies.
When a farmer who drinks too much overspends to buy the wonderful young horse, his wife is furious: how will they pay the rent? But his son Albert is instantly smitten by the thoroughbred whose unlikely name is Joey.
But the mutual bliss of boy and horse is not to last. Poverty forces Albert's father to sell Joey to the military at the beginning of World War I.
Sadly, Joey passes through rough treatment by a number of handlers until finally he's caught in the middle of trench warfare in the one section of the film worthy of Spielberg's talent.
The cinematography of this almost mystical horse running wild in the battle scarred area between the Germans and the British is riveting. This bitter taste of the horrors of war is the most satisfying part of the film.
WAR HORSE is intended to pluck the heartstrings, but for most of two hours and twenty minutes swelling music telegraphs each and every feeling we're supposed to have and almost turns the film into a parody of genuine emotion. The film feels like something made in the early 1940's.
Can this really be the work of the same man who made SAVING PRIVATE RYAN?