First Hit: Graphic pictures good and bad but this film was too manicured to suspend belief.
If you are old enough to recall “Duel” (1971 and his first feature) you saw Steven Spielberg not worrying so much about how manicured the scenes were, but his real concerned was about creating tension and drama and making sure the audience could feel what was going on.
War Horse is so far away from this ability that it hurts. Every picture in this film is pretty. Even “No Man’s Land” is a great visual. One scene where the horse gallops quickly through the trenches was overly done with effects and it was obvious.
On the plus side, I thought some of these pictures and scenes were elegant. But when I’m sitting in the theater thinking about the scene or picture and wondering how long it took to shoot a particular scene, I’m not engaged with the story or enjoying the picture.
It is like when entrepreneurs become too successful, they lose their edge at creating products. Or a fighter who becomes great because he’s hungry and once he wins and sits at the table and over feeds himself he can't fight any longer.
Here it is the edge of driving towards creating drama and suspense and caring less about the perfect picture. The most nonsensical scene was when the horse escapes from his German guard and traps himself in an area blocked on three sides with berms. A tank (for no reason at all) turns right, follows the horse into this enclosed area and we are given the thought by Spielberg, that this tank is going to shoot the horse.
Nowhere would this be a real or realistic event. The made up pretty picture scene I disliked most was the ending scene where there was the overly yellow-orange sky with the silhouettes of the family smacked in the middle of this overly colored sky.
Jeremy Irvine plays Albert Joey’s (War Horse) owner. Unfortunately this guy was pretty much a bust and I’m not sure why he was cast as Albert. He felt goofy, unreal and with little grit that would be part of of his working stock life. Peter Mullan, as Albert’s father Ted, was much better than Irvine and one could feel his hidden anguish. Emily Watson, as Albert’s mother Rose, was the best actor in the film. She made each scene she was in worth watching. David Thewlis as Lyons the landowner was overdone. Lee Hall and Richard Curtis wrote the screenplay which was better than the actual film. Spielberg was not at his best hungry self. This film felt bloated and setup from the beginning to elicit specific emotions and it was way too obvious.
Overall: Watch this at home on a big screen if you must see horses suffer and conquer.