War Horse (Steven Spielberg, 2011)

What's it about? Young Devon farm-lad Albert (Jeremy Irvine) is devoted to his horse Joey and is distraught when he is sold to the British cavalry at the outbreak of WWI. We follow Joey's adventures during the war, all the way to 1918, where Albert is now fighting in the trenches and still dreaming that one day he will be reunited with his beloved horse. Do you think he will be?

"Go on, give us a snog"
Is it any good? Remember that episode of Fr. Ted where they sang My Lovely Horse? Well, perhaps Spielberg should have heeded Fr Ted’s advice that ‘you really want to stay away from the whole idea of being in love with the horse. It’s more that the horse is a friend’. That's the view of the hardened cynic within me, who rolled his eyes and snorted in derision at the corny pile of slush unfolding in front of him. But a kinder, more romantic soul also lives within me and it kept reminding me that War Horse is an old-fashioned slice of family entertainment, based on a children's story, so why not cut it some slack? Ultimately, your enjoyment of it will depend on whether the cynic or the romantic within you wins out. In my case, the romantic stumbled on the home straight and the cynic cantered home with ease.
(Warning! There follows more horse-related punnery, which some readers may find disturbing.)

However, that's not to say that War Horse is terrible. It is a handsomely staged affair and it feels like a throwback to the grand old Hollywood technicolor epics of the 30s and 40s. There's some nice performances (Benedict Cumberbatch, David Thewlis, Tom Hiddleston) and Spielberg captures a few moments of quality and emotion that quietened even my inner cynic. Because I'm cool and not a big sissy-pants, it didn't reduce me to tears, but horse-lovers and NSPCA members would be well-advised to bring the Kleenex. For the most part, however, the going is just too soft throughout and it’s handicapped by the cloying over-sentimentality, which asks us to accept that an alarming number of cardboard human characters will be instantly smitten and inspired by the titular nag, to the extent that the war, not to mention many human casualties, are forgotten about as long as the lovely horse is okay. It's also saddled with a desperately over-wrought score which forces itself upon us at every opportunity. "Cry now", it demands. "Feel happy now", it bellows. And it doesn't so much pluck at the heartstrings as yank wildly on them in the final scenes, which inexplicably seem to have fallen into a bucket of orange paint. In the end, all these hurdles are too much for the film to get over unscathed. Overall, in the Spielberg stable, it’s certainly no thoroughbred, but it’s not useless enough to be dispatched to the knacker’s yard either. Mark it down as an also-ran.

I don't trust you. What do others think? Pretty much as I've said above, with individual reviews depending on that internal conflict between the cynic and romantic within each reviewer. As Andrew O'Hehir of Salon.com put it; "It's almost a great war movie in one direction, and almost a piece of irredeemable cheese in the other." Which direction will you choose?

Anything else I should know? Nice little featurette about the making of the film below. Watch out for that score! It'll be after your heartstrings if you're not careful!

What does the Fonz think? "My Lovely Horse, running through the trenches....."

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