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War Horse (2011)

Separated by war. Tested by battle. Bound by friendship.

Rating: 5/10

Running Time: 146 minutes

US Certificate: PG-13 UK Certificate: 12A

World War One films are generally box office poison so it was important that Steven Spielberg’s effort had a selling point. Following a horse throughout the war was one thing the great man did right but there wasn’t a great deal else.

War Horse follows Joey, a beautiful thoroughbred with a glossy sheen and dark come to bed eyes, as he is passed from new owner to owner during World War One. He starts off in the English countryside as a foolish purchase by Ted Narracott (Mullan), a reckless farmer. The farmer’s son Albert (Irvine) takes it upon himself to tame Joey and turn him into a working horse in order to save the farm from a nasty landowner (Thewlis). At the outset of war the horse is sold to an army officer (Cumberbatch) and so the animal’s journey begins into the horror of war.

The downfall of War Horse, a film with a unique premise and some very good bits, is an excessively syrupy sentimentality that is laid on way too thick, especially in an ending that is long, drawn out and painful. This is not helped by over the top acting as Matt Milne steals the show with a character who can only be described as ‘a bit special’ and accents which are overdone by Spielberg who seems to be very enamoured by the variety of English dialects. It can also be very hard to get your head around the unrealistically disproportionate reactions by all on screen to the horses as they are either exaggerratedly horrible to them or they fall into an adulation that borders on beastiality. Does this all mean that Steven Spielberg has lost his knack of getting the tone just right?

War Horse is certainly not a terrible film and is best in the mid-section where the horsing around is weighted well with the gritty realism of the war. Spielberg does well to keep the focus on the horse and not be pulled into an essay on the horrors of war but when called to do so the battle scenes are poignantly delivered in a no-nonesense fashion. Overall, this feels like a missed opportunity, whatever the Oscars might think.

It's Got: A nice mix of emotional bits and gritty realism from time to time, a much-needed original idea, a damn sexy horse

It Needs: To be more subtle, less of a generic Hollywood film score, less overacting


Diabetes-inducing sappy drama from Spielberg that fails to capture the imagination. A real missed opportunity of a unique premise.