I’m gonna say it: War Horse is a terrible movie.
It’s basically one of those horrible ensemble dramas like Valentine’s Day or New Year’s Eve, except about a horse. It’s got a lot of great people in it, and it’s very pretty (costumes! rolling fields!), but there’s no actual substance. It’s one of those slick, schmaltzy “epics” that Hollywood is so good at churning out around awards season. Which is not to say that there’s anything wrong with Oscar bait, per se, but this is a film so impressed with itself that it prevents the viewer from actually feeling anything.
In truth, there’s nothing special about the story, and none of the actors is given the time to really shine. Technically, I suspect that it’s quite competent, and it’s very handsomely filmed, etc, but when the most impressive feat is that they managed to wrangle all those horses so well, I think there’s a problem. It may have made me tear up at a couple of points, but so do commercials for laundry detergent, and frankly I was more annoyed at being emotionally manipulated than I was genuinely touched.
Not that I should have expected anything less from Steven Spielberg. Together with James Cameron, Spielberg is the king of overwrought Hollywood tripe. It’s middle-brow hokum, which has its place, certainly, but I wish people wouldn’t try to pass it off as anything more.