Steven Spielberg’s War Horse is a schmaltzy, sentimental saga of the love between a boy and his horse – boy meets horse, boy loses horse, boy is reunited with horse. It’s the classic romantic formula…although with an equestrian twist.
Based on a 1982 children’s novel that’s also been adapted into a successful stage play, the story opens shortly before World War I in the English county of Devon, where a young farm boy, Albert (Jeremy Irvine), becomes attached to the colt his drunken father buys to spite his vindictive landlord. The kid names the horse Joey, and trains him to plow their rocky land. When the threat of bankruptcy looms over the family’s head, Albert’s father sells the horse to an officer in the British army, who’s setting off to war. Albert, meanwhile, signs up for the army in the hope of somehow being reunited with his four-legged friend.
Joey passes from hand to hand amidst the carnage of war. At one point he’s captured by the German side and used in battle against the British. At another point in the story, he lands up at the farm of an old French jam-maker, whose spirited young granddaughter takes a shine to him. By the end of the war, he’s touched many lives, and a half dozen or so people believe they own the horse.
At nearly 2 hours and 30 minutes, War Horse practically drowns in sappiness. From Janusz Kaminiski’s overcooked cinematography to John Williams’ self-important score, everything about Spielberg’s film appears shrewdly calculated to push your buttons and to tug at your heartstrings. To be fair, it’s not hard to be moved by the film’s final moments, but that’s emotional manipulation for you.
A few war sequences are especially stirring, including one that involves dozens of soldiers hiding in a wheat field before staging an attack. But for the most part it’s a cloying film that doesn’t possess the same honest heart as Spielberg’s previous war films – Schindler’s List and Saving Private Ryan. It’s an overlong, suffocating affair that looks all pretty and epic but feels rather hollow inside.
I’m going with two out of five for Steven Spielberg’s War Horse. It’s so long and exhausting, I dub this film ‘Bore Horse’.