Warhorse One (2023) Review
Set in the closing days of the US involvement in Afghanistan, Warhorse One opens with one of the characters saying “Three administrations held this thing together, now this one wants to walk away and let the enemy take over the country”, conveniently forgetting it was the third of those administrations who ordered the release of several thousand Taliban prisoners then signed the agreement to pull American troops out.
After that bit of blatant political propaganda, I probably should have written off the rental fee and found something else to watch, but being the stubborn bastard that I am, I kept watching. I should have trusted my instincts.
That opening conversation ends with a SEAL team which includes Master Chief Richard Mirko (Johnny Strong, Invincible, Black Hawk Down), codenamed Warhorse One, being sent to rescue a missionary and his family who are being pursued by the Taliban. On the way there their chopper is shot down, Mirko is blown out of the craft and not only survives the fall but gets up, dusts himself off, and decides to complete the mission by himself.
The only problem is by the time he finds them, the missionary and his family are, with the exception of six year old Zoe (Athena Durner) dead. That left me wondering what kind of an asshole brings his wife and young children into a warzone as brutal as Afghanistan in the first place? He had to know the risks of being an American missionary, let alone one covertly helping the US military.
If he and his wife wanted to take the risk fine, but to put a death sentence on their kids as well is just sick. And why, since he was doing The Lord’s work, didn’t God save their collective asses, was He too busy cushioning Mirko’s fall? But then if he did save them we wouldn’t have this dollar store version of Extraction to watch, would we?
This is very much Strong’s film. Apart from starring he also co-wrote and co-directed with William Kaufman (Sinners and Saints, Daylight’s End) as well as writing the score, working on the VFX, doing the editing, makeup, props, and probably a few other things I missed. So the credit and/or blame for how Warhorse One turned out can mostly be given to him. Unfortunately, there’s a lot more blame than credit to be delivered.
First of all, there is no reason for Warhorse One to run for two hours. The plot, and action, are incredibly simplistic and could easily have been covered in ninety minutes. Sticking in more repetitive scenes of gunfire doesn’t make it any more exciting. If those firefights had been better filmed it might have made a difference, but most of them follow the same generic template. Mirko fires at Taliban fighters we can’t see. The film cuts to them shooting back at Mirko who is now off screen. Mirko fires some more. We cut back to the bad guys, this time with some CGI blood spray.
Likewise, the film’s characterization is almost nonexistent. Mirko is the second coming of John Wayne, all things heroic and virtuous with one mission, protect innocent little Zoe. The Afghans are subhuman beasts who we see cheerfully kill Zoe’s unarmed family and take selfies with their corpses. And of course, one threatens to molest her at a later point in the film.
When one of the Taliban asks our hero why the Americans came to their country and killed so many of their civilians he responds “So we can kill shitheads like you”. We get it, white man good, brown man evil. And, whether intentionally or not, that’s reinforced by the fact all the US personnel we see are Caucasian. It’s been pointed out that a Hispanic soldier is seen in the flashback to the chopper. He’s visible in a couple of quick shots that maybe last thirty seconds combined and has no dialogue.
There is some chemistry in some of the scenes between Zoe and Mirko, Durner is surprisingly good for a first time child performer. Unfortunately, there are frequent problems with the score drowning out their dialogue, undermining even that minor positive.
Warhorse One was made with a particular audience in mind, and if you fall into it, you may enjoy it. If you don’t then you’re in for a long two hours unless you’re smarter than me and bail out early.
Well Go USA released Warhorse One to theatres on June 30th and to Digital and VOD Platforms on July 4th. If you’re looking for something similar but hopefully better, FilmTagger can offer some suggestions.