War Horse begins with the birth of Joey, who
|"Let's keep this between you and me"|
|Joey's not running here, but carefully balancing|
|It's perfectly fine if you hum the "Theme to Rawhide" while watching this film|
That plot breakdown may make it seem like I didn't enjoy War Horse, but I actually did. The ensemble cast is solid, and the brutality of the war scenes is well-balanced by clever and cute civilian scenes. This is a movie meant to tug on the heart strings, and tug it does. So what's my problem, then? I'll get to it in a bit, but I want to acknowledge what I liked first.
The acting in War Horse doesn't contain any amazing performances, but they were all pretty good. Jeremy Irvine is likable as the main (human) character, which is essential to the success of the film. There are far too many moments early in the film where his love of Joey could be construed as romantic, but I thought he was fine otherwise.
|This analogue to the Sixteen Candles panty scene was a bit much, though|
|...and glamor. Don't forget the glamor!|
|L-R: Sherlock Holmes, cannon fodder, and Loki|
Steven Spielberg directed War Horse, so you know it's going to look good. The war scenes looked cool, but were not plentiful enough to change the focus of this movie from a boy and his horse to a war and its horse. For the record, though, War Horse is probably the most dead horse-filled movie I have ever seen. Spielberg's always had a good touch with light humor in his action films, and he maintains it here. The cinematography is pretty, the lighting is noticeably interesting at points (especially the last scene), and the story is suitably emotional.
|And, for little girls, that emotion is "ridiculous horse-caused joy"|
The style is awfully retro, though. War Horse feels more like a John Ford movie than a Spielberg film. This is the kind of semi-epic, ultra-earnest story that was all the rage in the 50s and 60s, but has fallen out of favor of late because it can seem a bit dated or corny. And War Horse is kind of dated and corny, so that makes sense. It's not just that the film is a tad predictable and old-fashioned, it takes itself pretty seriously. Sure, there are some intentionally funny moments (many involving a goose, a sure sign of broad audience pandering), but there are also some unintentionally funny conceptual moments. For instance, Joey has a companion horse during the war; that's right, the main character in this war movie inevitably finds a war buddy, and that buddy's character development mirrors that of most "best friend" characters in war movies.
|That horse is one week away from retirement|
None of that makes War Horse a bad movie. While I thought the film was sentimental and nostalgic, I certainly teared up on a few occasions. This is a well-made movie that hits all the right notes, but just isn't very interesting to me. On the other hand, I think it is a little funny that, in the same year J.J. Abrams made a movie that waxed nostalgic for Close Encounters, Spielberg wound up making an homage to the emotional epics of yesteryear. This is a quality picture, just not necessarily as great as it wants to be.