War Horse ***

December 25, 2011 by James Berardinelli - Reelviews
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Over the last 20 years of his career, Steven Spielberg has often coupled a crowd-pleasing would-be blockbuster with a more serious-minded project. Thus, in 1993, he released Jurassic Park in tandem with Schindler’s List. In 1997, there were The Lost World and Amistad. 2005 brought War of the Worlds and Munich. Now we have The Adventures of Tintin and War Horse (released within weeks of each other, and possibly competing for the same audience). Of the dramatic films Spielberg has released over the years, it can be argued that War Horse is among the least successful. Call it “lesser Spielberg” and put it alongside Always and Hook. War Horse is by no means a bad movie, but it feels less like the epic it strives to be and more like a loosely connected series of World War I-era vignettes. Its emotional punch doesn’t deliver much force; War Horse‘s primary attraction is not the story of how it makes us feel but its impressive re-creation of the Great War’s battlefields and some stunningly beautiful camerawork by cinematographer Janusz Kaminski.

War Horse follows the adventures of Joey, a horse born and bred in Devon, who is the lone equine owned by Albert (Jeremy Irvine); his father, Ted (Peter Mullan); and his mother, Rose (Emily Watson). When the landowner (David Thewlis) threatens to foreclose on the farm unless the rent is paid, Ted sells Joey to army major Stewart (Benedict Cumberbatch), who rides the horse into the early battles of World War I. After Stewart is killed in action, Joey is taken by the Germans. Over the next few years, he ends up pulling ambulances and gun wagons, and being the pet of a lonely French peasant girl (Celine Buckens) and her grandfather (Niels Arestrup). Once Albert becomes old enough to join the British army, he never ceases scouring the front lines for Joey, even though the odds of him finding his beloved horse are worse than those of finding a needle in a haystack.

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