Movie Review: War Horse

January 6, 2012

War Horse (2011)
146 minutes
Rated PG-13
Directed by Steven Spielberg
Starring: Jeremy Irvine, Emily Watson, David Thewlis

Grade: B-

Steven Spielberg has been lighting up the screens this past month with two films released within weeks from one another. While The Adventures of Tintin is his crack at the 3-D medium, War Horse is as classic and old-fashioned as it gets. Adapted from the book and theater production of the same name, War Horse is a powerful tale about a boy and his horse during World War I. Even though Spielberg has set up another epic war film, War Horse lacks at being powerful enough on all fronts.

We follow the horse throughout the film as he exchanges owners and travels through cities, which breaks the film up into separate parts. He first meets Albert Narracott, who names him Joey and trains him to obey commands and to plow a field to harvest. But when a rain storm destroys their crop, Albert’s father has no choice but to sell Joey to the army so they can pay rent.

Joey marches forward as an officer’s horse, but gets captured by the Germans where he is then used to pull the ambulance wagon. Two brothers go AWOL with Joey and his friend. After they’re caught, a young girl, Emilie, and her grandfather enjoy the company of Joey until he is mercilessly taken back by the German military. The rest of the movie takes place through the trenches and the battlefield, cutting between Albert who has joined the army and Joey.

There are many great things about this film, along with it being a very enjoyable and entertaining spectrum. There are plenty of gorgeous shots of the wavy landscapes of England and the war sequences were exceptional. But the film as a whole feels disconnected because of the way it’s structured. Because we follow Joey’s journey, we’re presented with a number of human counter-parts. With the exception of Albert, no one is given enough screen-time to really feel any emotional attachment to them, and that is the movie’s major problem.

I must admit I was disappointed with this film because of some very manipulative scenes that really attempt to tug on your heart. And even when you include those scenes, War Horse still falls short at accomplishing that level of power that great epics have. Not to knock on Spielberg, but his past handful of films haven’t lived up to his legendary status. Since 2003, Munich is the only film that stands out at being excellent while the rest ranges from extremely watchable to downright terrible. I was hoping War Horse would switch gears to Spielberg’s glory days, but I was wrong.

Overall, War Horse is a beautifully shot film, but one that is forgettable. Spielberg was very bold to take on this boy-and-his-horse tale, but after the credits roll, you’re left with fragments of a complete film.

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