Michael Cox finds Steven Spielberg's latest 'a bit of a disappointment.'
A horse raised in rural England witnesses the atrocities of WWI through the lives of the people it encounters.
War Horse is an excellent example of ‘romantic’ cinema. The music is emotionally sweeping, the characters are mostly two-dimensional and the scenery belongs in an oil painting. That’s not to say it’s happy-go-lucky. The film clearly states that war is bad, but it does so with less gore and onscreen death than any war film in memory. This is not the work from the director of Saving Private Ryan, Schindler’s List or even Jaws; it’s by the director of Hook and E.T.
However, it’s very difficult to be overly critical of the film because, for the most part, it works rather well. Sure, most of the characters are onscreen for too short a time to emotionally invest in, but you care enough to sympathise when bad things happen and cheer when good things befall them, and there isn’t one bad performance within the large ensemble. Emily Watson, Tom Hiddleston, Benedict Cumberbatch, Niels Arestrup and Nicolas Bro particularly standing out as supporting characters and Jeremy Irvine gives a very solid performance in the lead role of Albert Narracott.
Rather than focusing on telling an involving large-scale story, the film feels more like a well-oiled machine geared towards one thing: provoking tears. It is here that the film partially falls apart. By favouring sentiment over substance, the film robs itself the chance of becoming more than an emotional roller-coaster. Few of the characters have a chance to resonate past emotional manipulation, and the fact that the film hinges on its titular central character, Joey, means that the film is primarily about other protagonists reacting to its main equestrian star.
There are some brilliantly staged scenes and a few moments where it’s all but impossible not to shed a tear. It’s beautiful to look at, difficult to resist while it plays out and is filled with admirable characters. Still, War Horse isn’t quite the full package, and even though its heart is in the right place, World War One never looked so nice.
A bit of a disappointment. It’s good, sometimes extremely good, but it isn’t nearly as good as it clearly wants to be.