Based on the book by Michael Morpurgo, War Horse is about one horse's experience in the deadly chaos of the First World War. In 1914, Joey, a young farm horse, is sold to the army and thrust into the midst of the war on the Western Front, leaving a devastated teenage boy called Albert behind. Witnessing the horror of the frontline and the desolation of the trenches, Joey's courage touches the soldiers and every other person he meets, but none more so than Albert, now a private. After all they have been through will Albert and Joey return home together? It’s Spielberg. What do you think?
Despite an amusingly bizarre opening hour in the company of various stereotypes with funny accents, War Horse isn’t as bold or as thrilling as I was led to believe. The horses are astonishing, and Joey’s relationship with mare Topthorn is easily the most heart-warming, while Albert (Jeremy Irvine) shrugs off his annoyingly thick-witted persona to conjure up enough empathy for the final furlong. Sadly, when either Topthorn or Albert aren’t around, the story just isn’t stimulating enough, as character’s are introduced but with little time to get to know them.
Spielberg’s insistence on dumbing down and allowing everyone to speak in English is another frustration. There isn’t even a great deal of dialogue to be had, if truth be told, so why he refuses to use subtitles is lazy and farcical. The script – Richard Curtis one of the guilty parties – is filled with cheap unnecessary small talk to reveal backstory quickly, and apart from a surprise cavalry charge from the Brits there’s surprisingly little threat on offer. There are some good moments, including a slightly silly scene on no man’s land when Joey is trapped in barbed wire, a rare highlight, but with a plodding midsection as Joey shifts from character to character, you’ll be glad when Albert stumbles back onto the scene.
A disappointment then? Well, it's more fun than most blockbusters, and Spielberg’s War Horse does offer lush imagery and a stirring score (no surprises there), and despite all of its problems it will still have you reaching for the handkerchief on more than one occasion. Not the epic I was hoping for, but perfect for a rainy Sunday afternoon with the niece and nephew. Just be prepared for the, "Can I have a horse?" conversation afterwards. Good job Uggie has retired because Joey tramples all over him (he doesn’t, just in case you were worried). DW