‘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