This is the story, apparently based on a children's book, and later a play (not that it matters, because I'll never see it), of a cursed horse that leaves a trail of death and misfortune in its wake. In fact the Spanish translation for war horse is 'horse of curse'. Totally true fact that I didn't make up at all.
War Horse follows the story of the horse, Joey, an almost magical horse at the beginnings of the World War I. I say magical because this is the smartest, fastest, and strongest horse ever. His ability to avoid death, however, means that death is transferred to the others around him. After the opening sequence, which was actually the only part of the movie I was really into, the movie is essentially a collection of short stories as Joey passes from owner to owner.
This is actually one of the issues I had with War Horse, as it does feel like a collection of short stories, I really didn't connect or feel invested in any of the events of the movie. Each time Joey would move on, I would wonder how long until this sequence is over and someone takes ownership of him.
The best part of the movie is the cinematography. It's beautifully shot. There's some real old-school film making here. Many shots feel like beautiful paintings. I just wish there was more for me to like here than beautiful visuals. I didn't think the screenplay, written by Lee Hall and Richard Curtis, was all that strong here.
The other part of the movie that I felt was strong were the actual war sequences. Epic war sequences seems to be one of the things that Steven Spielberg does best. I just wish there would have been a little more of that here.
John Williams soundtrack sounds a little too much like he was just kind of phoning it in. When I wrote about Tintin, I mentioned his soundtrack felt like it was lifted out of an Indiana Jones film. It was very appropriate. With War Horse, it sounded too much like he was recycling bits from other soundtracks.
It's not that it's poorly acted either. There are only a handful of recognizable faces, like Emily Watson, Tom Hiddleston, and David Thewlis, and they are all fine. The 'lead', played by newcomer Jeremy Irvine, was the only person I felt who's performance wasn't quite up to par. He just felt a little goofy.
I felt like this movie tried to make me feel something, rather than let it happen organically. Again, I blame this on the story. I can't really invest in anyone emotionally if the story never spends any real time with them. At one point, you're told that a character you saw earlier in the film had died, and they don't even tell you how they died or when. If the story doesn't care enough about its characters to explain something like that, then how do you expect me to? Also, I felt that the way the end played out seemed a little forced.
I was actually kind of bored at parts I even started to doze off, but I can't blame that on the movie as much as the fact that I haven't been sleeping well lately. A two and a half hour movie usually isn't the brightest idea when you aren't getting consistent sleep, especially when it's not action packed.
War Horse isn't a bad movie, it's just not a very good one. Visually, it's great, but I just felt that the story and soundtrack were too heavy-handed to the point of being manipulative. Some people will really have an emotional response to this, but I wasn't one of them.
3 (out of 5) Death Stars. It's a matinee at best, but I think you'd be better off just renting it.