To compare War Horse to a pair of other Steven Spielberg directed films, it is like E.T. meets Saving Private Ryan. It is just an awkward a combination as it sounds like. There is the heartwarming story of a boy and his horse, a story of how they overcame everything to be together again. Then there is the war movie, highlighting the dirty, brutal horrors of World War 1, as well as the bravery of the combatants. The two a mashed together into a film that while entertaining, is not as good as either of its parts.
It is all the worse because separately, both of the sides of War horse are good. The first quarter or so establishes the friendship between Albert, the boy, and Joey, the horse. It perhaps a touch too sentimental, but effective nonetheless. From there Joey is goes to war an War Horse becomes almost episodic as Joey goes through owners and wartime adventures. The tone is decidedly grim, but filtered through a PG-13 rating that doesn’t allow too much blood or on-camera deaths. This doesn’t quite allow the war scenes to have the bite that they could have. It also fails to keep it appropriate for children, leaving the whole thing feeling somewhat compromised.
In the last quarter of the film, Albert joins the army to find his horse, which leads to a few more of Spielberg’s expertly filmed battle scenes. Again, the individual ingredients used in this film are all of the highest quality, but they are combined in a less than satisfactory manner. Partly I think this is because of the episodic nature of the middle part of the film, where Joey’s temporary owners all die or have to give him up. This keeps War Horse from building any narrative momentum.
For as odd a combination as War Horse is, a heartwarming family war movie, it is probably better than it should be. But that doesn’t mean it is anything better than good. Though it certainly has its share of moments, War Horse is a good, but far from great film.
One last note, I must say that, despite me being a wholly heterosexual man, Tom Hiddleston’s eyes are positively dreamy.