I was so angry with Steven Spielberg after I saw this movie. It had a perfectly good premise. A gorgeous horse named Joey and the poor English farm boy (Jeremy Irvine who looks like a young Tom Brady) who tamed and loved him, has to relinquish his pet to the brutality of World War I. Will the horse survive? Will the boy? There’s lush green countryside, golden sunsets, fighting soldiers, a great storyteller at the helm (Spielberg) and a beautiful, wonderful, noble chestnut horse with 4 white socks, who’s stronger than any horse ever was. I was all set to let myself go, big fat tears rolling down my cheeks. Hell– I couldn’t wait!
And then …it began to creep in like kudzu– great gobs of sentiment planted by the filmmaker that slowly, but surely began to take over every frame until I was choking on the stuff and couldn’t breathe, so embarrassed was I for the actors and the creature. I felt the first cringe coming on when we meet a too perfect, sickly young French farm girl and her sweet old grandfather–there’s a really sad back story about her dead parents– and of course her instantaneous bond with Joey. I was starting to feel a little queasy. (We never do find out what happened to that girl.)
Later, there are continually soldiers, sometimes bumbling, who decide to risk their lives for Joey at the drop of a bucket. OK, all right. I checked it off to good old-fashioned Capra-esque corn– for which I have a very high tolerance. When this all culminated in the most farfetched scene (that no one save ET could have imagined) between a German and a British soldier in the middle of a barbed wire hell of a battlefield, I thought I was done for. (How did so many wire cutters show up on cue, in the same place at the same time?) But I still had some fight left in me, until… until…
The war stops in its tracks as a phalanx of rag tag soldiers–apparently choreographed by Busby Berkeley– parts like the red sea, while a blindfolded soldier stumbles down the line whimpering “Joey … Joey..”
Then, and only then was I through.
Look. I love a good cry. I love horses, and old-fashioned family stories about heroism. But I do not need any filmmaker to have so little faith in me, and the material that he has to underscore, over-direct, and contort every scene to within an inch of its emotional life, in order to be sure I feel something. Spielberg leans so heavy and so hard, it was sickening instead of sweet, fake instead of true. Back off, Steve, and let the story live. And by the way, this story could have used a little fleshing out.
Horsefeathers, I say. Now that was good movie.