Posted December 28, 2011 by William Dunmyer in Drama

War Horse: Effective Entertainment, but Predictable

After seeing “Munich” (2005), I felt that Steven Spielberg was (finally) becoming a major filmmaker, graduating from entertainment and moving on to the realm of art. But it hasn’t panned out. “War Horse” confirms that Spielberg isn’t much interested in art. He’s an entertainer through and through. That’s what he was put here to do.

This is fine. He should stick to what excites him. The sad thing is that even his skills at entertainment are declining. “War Horse” is an effective entertainment, but you can predict every move it’s going to make. It operates within such a conventional formula that there’s little real excitement.
The story focuses on a lower-class English teenager (played fairly well by newcomer Jeremy Irvine) who develops a deep relationship with a young thoroughbred that his father buys at auction. Quite early in the film, World War I breaks out (1914), and the family is forced to sell the horse to the British Army. The bulk of the film follows the horse’s travails on various front lines.
The boy eventually enlists in the Army. The drama then moves to the question of whether the horse and boy are going to find each other on the battlefield. Along the way, the horse encounters an array of German, French, and English folk, some of whom go out of their way to protect the horse. The screenplay bends over backwards to portray the Germans as kind and humane. This was a nice touch, but not really surprising anymore. American and British storywriters have been doing this for about 20 years now.
It is all lovely to behold, and one cannot help but get carried up by it. I do believe that animals and humans can share deep, surprising, and authentic bonds. But “War Horse” never moves beyond the predictable. It ultimately coddles its audience and never gives it much to think about. After you’ve wiped away the tears and felt the warm afterglow dissipate, you go back to the challenging world, not having grown at all. “War Horse” is just a very good Hallmark greeting card.

William Dunmyer

William Dunmyer is a lifelong cinephile who fell in love with movies at about the age of 5. He lives in New York City.