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December 23, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

Jeremy Irvine in War Horse

Most film critics take a cold, analytical approach to what they see on the screen, and if the movie stirs deep emotions, they are likely to ascribe that reaction to “manipulation” by the director. Such is the case with Steven Spielberg’s War Horse, in both positive and negative reviews, as if manipulation were not the business of a director. Going into virtually any dramatic film that focuses on an animal, a moviegoer generally knows that they’re in for an emotional experience, and several critics agree that Spielberg is a master at making that experience intense and often cathartic. “You may find yourself resisting this sentimental pageant,” writes A.O. Scott in the New York Times, “but my strong advice is to surrender. … Quiet the snarky voice in your head and allow yourself to recall, or perhaps to discover, the deep pleasures of sincerity.” In the Chicago Sun-Times Roger Ebert writes that he believes the movie is a homage “to a Hollywood tradition of broad, uplifting movies intended for all audiences. … War Horse is bold, not afraid of sentiment and lets out all the stops in magnificently staged action sequences. Its characters are clearly defined and strongly played by charismatic actors.” Finally, he concludes, “The film is made with superb artistry.” Indeed, Kyle Smith sums up in the New York Post: “Those who say they don’t make ’em like they used to must now fall silent.” Mick LaSalle in the San Francisco Chronicle is obviously of two minds about the movie. “As messy as it is inspired,” he observes, “it jumps from episode to episode, lurching unexpectedly to life — more entertaining than it seemingly should be and, all the while, making you feel things, whether you want to or not.” Likewise, Claudia Puig in USA Today begins her review by complaining about the 2 1/2-hour length of the movie (“a long slog”), faulting it for “obvious sentimentality,” and sometimes “clichéd” dialogue. But for all of that, she concludes, “War Horse has an exhilarating, impressionistic beauty, and emotion trumps rationality at every turn.” In the end, she predicts, it “will likely take its place alongside beloved family films.” The headline on Steven Rea’s review in the Philadelphia Inquirer seems at odds with his actual opinion of the movie. “Bloody, sugary, tear-jerker of a tale about a horse and a boy,” reads the headline. But in his review, Rea writes: “War Horse is sugary, to be sure — but it is sugar cut with cannon fire and barbed wire and the horrors of war.” The Associated Press’s Christie Lemire likes the movie’s “holiday feel-goodery,” but writes that the dialogue “might just make you cringe.” But Rex Reed in the New York Observer has no reservations about the movie, writing, “You will not believe the epic splendor, sweeping drama and heart-stopping passion [Spielberg] brings to War Horse. It’s a rare and genuine movie masterpiece that deserves the label in a thousand ways.”