‘War Horse’: Lovely landscapes but a sappy story

“WAR HORSE” DM-AC-00047 Al­bert (Jeremy Irvine) and his horse Joey are fea­tured in this scene from Dream­Works Pic­tures’ “War Horse”, dir­ect­or Steven Spiel­berg’s epic ad­ven­ture for audi­ences of all ages, set against a sweep­ing can­vas of rur­al Eng­land and Europe dur­ing the First World War. Ph: An­drew C(…)


The pre­views for War Horse give the dis­tinct feel­ing that it is sup­posed to be some sort of grand, epic drama in the vein of Gone With the Wind, and it is — visu­ally. From the lovely land­scapes of early 20th-cen­tury rur­al Eng­land to the beau­ti­ful horses with kind, trust­ing eyes to the dark and dreary de­pic­tion of World War I, War Horse is beau­ti­fully shot, and the edit­ing and cine­ma­to­graphy cer­tainly de­serve some re­cog­ni­tion.

It is the story that leaves something to be de­sired. War Horse is a story that has gone from the page as a chil­dren’s nov­el by Mi­chael Mor­purgo to the stage as a Lon­don play and now to the screen as a movie dir­ec­ted by Steven Spiel­berg, with a screen­play from writers Lee Hall and Richard Curtis.

I’ve come to ex­pect a cer­tain level of sap­pi­ness from Spiel­berg. War Horse de­liv­ers on that front as well, along with its gritty de­pic­tion of war (al­beit in a san­it­ized PG-13 ver­sion). Still, I don’t be­lieve that it is go­ing to be re­membered as one of Spiel­berg’s best.

War Horse is a movie for an­im­al lov­ers. It’s es­sen­tially about a boy and his horse, or, more spe­cific­ally, about a mir­acle horse who de­fies the odds. Al­bert (Jeremy Irvine) is a teen­ager who has trained his horse Joey to plow his fam­ily’s farm. Sadly, Al­bert’s fath­er Ted (Peter Mul­lan) sells the horse to an army sol­dier, Capt. Nich­olls (Tom Hid­dle­ston), to keep from los­ing his farm. Al­bert, too young to join the army at the start of the war, vows to one day re­unite with his pre­cious Joey.

From here on the story is told through the horse’s eyes as he be­comes an im­port­ant part of World War I. Joey goes on a voy­age that in­cludes mo­ments with Ger­man sol­diers, a young French girl and her grand­fath­er, and again with the Ger­mans. He makes a friend in Top­thorn, a beau­ti­ful black horse he meets dur­ing his ori­gin­al mil­it­ary train­ing with Capt. Nich­olls.

After a long break, we see Al­bert again, now old enough to be a sol­dier in the Brit­ish army, and well, you can prob­ably guess what hap­pens to Joey from here.

Over­all, the movie held my in­terest and was nev­er bor­ing, per se. Still, there was something stop­ping War Horse from be­ing truly great for me. You will care deeply about the horse, but not so much for the people, simply be­cause no one is around long enough to de­vel­op much of an at­tach­ment to. The movie’s main hu­man char­ac­ter, Al­bert, played some­what woodenly by film new­comer Jeremy Irvine, didn’t par­tic­u­larly move me.

There were some power­ful, emo­tion­al scenes (the movie’s best act­ors def­in­itely were the horses that played Joey). It was in­ter­est­ing (and sad) to see the rig­or­ous work de­man­ded of the horses dur­ing war. Some of the scenes are re­min­is­cent of mo­ments from oth­er Spiel­berg flicks, such as E.T. and Sav­ing Private Ry­an.

I no­ticed a real lack of even a curs­ory ex­plan­a­tion of World War I, like who was fight­ing and what they were fight­ing for, so it helps to go in with some know­ledge of its dy­nam­ics.

War Horse is the big sen­ti­ment­al film of the hol­i­day sea­son. It lacks uni­ver­sal ap­peal, so those who don’t like horse or war movies prob­ably should stay away. ••

Movie Grade: B


You can reach at shorbrook@bsmphilly.com.

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