I will not cry. I will NOT cry. I WILL NOT CRY. Oh, damn you, Spielberg!
War Horse has divided critics; some claim it is Spielberg’s best in years, and one of the best films of the year, others claim it’s blatantly sentimental. The truth is, they’re both valid arguments.
It’s definitely Spielberg’s best in years, but it doesn’t take much to beat Indy 4, and Tin Tin felt twice as long as this, despite being much shorter. Gorgeous to look at, it has some truly stunning sequences, and from the moment the horse is cornered by a tank, the film takes off to another level, especially emotionally. Unfortunately, this comes at least two-thirds into the film, up until when it’s been a rather plodding, clichéd watch.
Consisting of various vignettes as the horse moves from person to person, country to country, some are more successful than others, and regrettably the most tedious are also the longest. One in particular involving a girl and her grandfather is especially grating, largely due to the dreadful performance from the girl with a French accent straight out of ‘Allo ‘Allo.
She’s not alone. Newcomer Jeremy Irvine, who plays the boy who trains and raises the horse, is little more than acceptable. It is largely due to his somewhat stiff performance that the first half of the film didn’t resonate with me emotionally, and even the mighty Peter Mullan as the boy’s father is given little more to do than hold back drunken hiccups.
Familiar faces come and go, and the story progresses in a way that’s easy to follow and never boring, although there are moments that feel shockingly incompetent for someone of Spielberg’s calibre.
But just as you’ve written the film off, the final acts grabs hold of you and shakes you until you cry. And once you start, you won’t stop. You know how the final moments play out long before they happen, but there is emotionally something satisfying in that.