Though considerably longer than it needs to be, Warhorse One is a decent example of auteur filmmaking on a limited budget.
The auteur in question is Johnny Strong. If the name doesn’t ring a bell, he’s had small roles in such films as The Fast and the Furious and Black Hawk Down. He’s all over the end credits in this one (to an amusing degree). Not only is Strong the star, he co-directed, wrote the screenplay, composed the music and a slew of other things behind the camera.
Strong plays Master Chief Richard Mirko, a Navy SEAL during the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan. On a mission to extract a dignitary's family, he’s thrown from his chopper when it’s hit by an RPG. Mirko miraculously (ridiculously?) survives the fall and continues the mission on foot. He arrives to discover everyone but the six year old girl, Zoe (Athena Durner), has been murdered by the Taliban.
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With the exception of their leader, who of-course refers to the Americans as infidels, the Taliban themselves are caricatures that mostly serve as cannon fodder. On the other hand, the developing friendship between Mirko and Zoe is genuinely engaging, probably the best aspect of the narrative and given considerable heft by convincing performances from the two leads.
Still, I don’t think Strong really needs over two hours to tell this story. There are sequences, particularly during the final act, that drag on too long. I like a good bloody climax as much as the next guy, but this one eventually feels like watching someone else play a round of Call of Duty. Warhorse One ultimately works best during the quieter moments.
AUDIO COMMENTARY - Director and star Johnny Strong offers commentary on about an hour of the film.