Actually I didn’t really want to spend any more time on this film than it took watching it, but since I - more or less unintentionally - had ‘reviewed’ it for a friend (who wanted to know how I liked the ‘Lassie on hooves’ concoction) I might as well put it here.
So here goes - straight from the horse’s mouth (pun intended ;)):
I seriously wanted to like this film, although I was afraid I wouldn’t. And I didn’t. Sadly.
For crying out loud, what a wasted chance to make a truly fine film!
Let’s say first: I am not one to scorn a bit of pathos in a film, if it’s well placed and well applied. It can be done you know, and it has been done perfectly lots of times. I will quite happily tear up and sniffle along with everybody else in the cinema, I indulge in getting goosebumps and I am not ashamed of it. But this was bad. Bordering on cringeworthy. The dialogue is so trite and foreseeable, stiffly phrased and stilted that no wonder afterwards you feel like you’ve been hit over the head with a blunt instrument for the best part of two and a half hours. Also I am a sucker for beautiful scenery, atmosphere, for the dust-dancing-in-sunlight sort of thing – that’s what cinema is for, isn’t it? (just realising I am probably not really a very discerning movie goer ;)) But this was… too much….somehow tipping it over the edge time and time again, into the tacky and cheesy. Every so often I couldn’t but expect a cigarette or travel agency add appearing on the screen in the next moment. Nigh on unbearable really.
Next thing: I am definitely aware of this being cinema. And that this sort of film (nearly any film, to be precise) is not meant to be … erm … educational on the subject matter. Or ‘realistic’. This is not the goal of such a film. You have to tell a story, you have to make it work, you have artistic licence and that justifies a lot… BUT why is it necessary for a film, that’s got a ‘horse’ in the title and a good few of them in the cast, to depict everything, and I mean literally (ok, nearly) everything concerning them so. Utterly. Wrong? The need for that eludes me completely.
So how many people out there will now be under the impression (provided there are people out there with any lasting impression of that film at all) that the central part of training a horse - to whichever purpose - is to make him come when you whistle, and other than that it is not only sufficient but literally imperative that you explain to him (yes, explain, as in so many words) slowly and clearly enough what he’s expected to do. Failing that, you’ll have to explain it a second time, preferably with saucer eyes and an imbecile expression on your face, and he will understand. No need for tediousness, no need for patience, no need for skill, no need for anything beside love, determination and a very smart horse… They will think that you can plough a stony (or even one straight furrow in any) field with a horse on the very day it saw and felt a harness for the first time in his life (same applies to riding and anything else of course). That you will manage, even if you don’t know jack about what you’re doing, as long as you love Lassie … ähm, Horsie enough.
Yes, this seems like a minor complaint but it really irked me, causing something close to physical pain (to which the score added, btw) Of course this is not a film about schooling horses, but where would have been the harm in showing just a few sequences that where just a tiny bit closer to reality? Even with dust-dancing-in-sunlight over beautiful Devonshire countryside if you must? To give it some scale, give it some sense of time passing, and maybe even a sense of a deeper bonding (than that of ‘an apple for a whistle’) between boy and horse (and land. Yes, land - this is about war, isn’t it?)
Dear me, when I set out to write this I didn’t intend to get so elaborate, and I didn’t intent such a trashing… Let’s be fair: although they are few and far between, the film has its moments.
The doomed cavalry charge which has a ghostly quality to it, the fall of a cavalry sword, surrendering in the face of technical warfare but also in the face of the … futility of it all. The bolting horse in the eery lighting of no-man’s-land between the trenches of the Somme. And there, although dragged out way too long, the sequence with the British and the German soldier where humanity shines through madness and horror, despite - or rather because - of their deadpan quips and laconic exchange over the back of one animal, caught in the throes of war just as they are.
But despite the smoke, the explosions, the machine gun fire (or technical effects to that effect), somehow the film only scratches the surface of the enormity of war. Well, there are enough films that have made this statement, and jarringly so, in regard to human suffering, so maybe no real need for that again. But this film could have been the equivalent for the side of the animals. It could have spoken of the immeasurable debt of mankind to horses, for dragging them off to their wars for centuries. Milleniums really. If the film had succeeded in hammering home at least that point, it would have been redeemed and justified. If it was such an attempt, a very feeble one it was. Mind: whether such a film would have been one I would have liked to watch, is an entirely different question. It would not have been the ‘popcorn box office favourite for all ages’ it apparently tries to be, and most certainly it would not have been A12. But it might have been an epic film.
So now you might wonder what brought me to such lengths about a film I don’t really care about? Not sure myself. Maybe, as stated above, the fact that I truly wanted to like it so much, when I went to see it.
But what I did see was a film that is trying, trying so hard to deliver, and it seems for exactly this reason - it doesn’t.