War Horse - Review

After many recent action related movies produced and/or directed by Spielberg, it's a fresh turn to see the great master of mainstream entertainment do a drama movie again.
"War Horse" certainly has not a great start. Surrounded by winter blockbuster releases like "Mission Impossible 4" and "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo", Spielberg's war drama more or less sneaked its way into theaters, with little to no hype whatsoever.
But is "War Horse" a prime example of an underestimated movie experience or is it a rightfully forgettable picture?

The plot:
Young Albert enlists to service in WWI after his beloved horse, Joey, is sold to the cavalry. Albert's hopeful journey takes him out of England and across Europe as the war rages on. (source: IMDb)

"War Horse" is based on a children's novel set before and during World War I, by British author Michael Morpurgo and the 2007 stage adaptation of the same name.
However, as i didn't read the novel or saw the play, i cannot make any comparisons to either one of 'em.

Steven Spielberg's take on this "horse tale" is by far one of his most sentimental movies yet. Every single scene of the movie oozes emotions left and right.
This is especially achieved through the story of "War Horse" being the "life story" of the horse Joey itself. The viewer witnesses its birth, first running attempts, training, pain, war adventures and the development of the bond between Joey and his trainer Albert.
Me myself, i am not a big horse fan. In fact, i don't like horses at all. But this...is probably the best horse-related movie that i've seen so far. Joey is not just a horse but a fully flashed out character in this movie. Even so much that he easily outshines almost every other characrer in the picture.
Although "War Horse" has some problems to get going, it's after the first half when the movie manages to truely make the viewer root for Joey AND Albert. Despite the fact, that the story gets told through different perspectives, the most interesting is by far Joey's and neither of the human characters.
Again, the horse Joey steals the show in "War Horse" for everyone.

Also "War Horse" does great in balancing light comedy and happy moments with shocking WWI scenery. You will not only be reminded of "boy and animal/alien" moments like in E.T., but also of war movies like "Saving Private Ryan".

Some problems however arise when talking about the dialogue. While most of the dialogue is pretty solid and competently written, it's hard to shake off the feel, that almost every scene is either there to awoke feelings of extreme sadness or happiness in you. The "emotional rollercoaster" never truely lets up. It is very present and while i didn't have that many problems with it, i am sure that some viewers will tend to feel "manipulated". Especially Spielberg's so called "Spielberg Face", which is pretty much present in every single one of his movies, is overused in "War Horse".

Yet still, it would be wrong to say, that "War Horse" doesn't achieve incredibly heartwarming and touching moments throughout the entire flick. The problem is that the "emotional outbreak moments and climaxes" are used more often than actual "build up". The movie reaches its goals with a forced and clunky formula.

The casting choices are very well done though. While the movie mainly consists out of the two main characters Albert (Jeremy Irvine) and Joey the horse, every single actor in the picture does a great job in acting. It may be nothing groundbreaking, but it's good solid acting work throughout. Although i was constantly wondering why every Frenchman and German is able to speak English.
However, a medal should be given to the horse-trainers involved in the making of this movie. The "acting" by the horse Joey is incredible. I always asked myself how they could make the horse react in that specific way and so natural and credible. They made Joey develop a character which the viewer relates to and begins to understand.
It goes even so far, that the horse actually feels more flashed out and three-dimensional than most of the other characters.

As i already said, Spielberg's talent in depicting great World-War-scenery is once again present in "War Horse". With that said, despite the movie being primarily very dialogue-heavy, Albert's and Joey's journey boasts some great and dramatic action scenes, that will give you serious "Saving Private Ryan" flashbacks.

Overall, i went into this movie with absolutely no expecations whatsoever, and i was actually pretty surprised about the final result. It's by far not comparable to Spielberg's greatest works, mostly due to the fact that "War Horse" is too rushed and focused on showing emotional moments all the time. The frequency in which the "very obvious" "be-sad-be-happy"-moments occur, is way too high. Making the movie feel, like it's rushing to its goal to be a dramatic "wanna make you cry" movie. However, this doesn't mean that the movie fails in this regard. The acting ranges from solid to very good and especially the horse Joey steals the show, making it by far the most interesting aspect about this entire flick.
Yet, regarding how great this movie presents itself and how it looks, it's a competent, solidly made drama movie.

With that said, "War Horse" may be a weaker entry in Spielberg's filmography, but its technically excellent execution, directing and acting, easily outweigh its sentimental "emotion overkill". It's a typical Spielberg story that will leave you with a good feel after the credits roll. If that appeals to you, go watch "War Horse".

Final Verdict: 7 out of 10


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