As you might imagine, this is a gorgeously filmed and emotional film. Sometimes a bit forced, as is Spielberg’s penchant, but still effective.
There are moments that will be remembered for years… in particular the first battle scene and the moment in no man’s land much later. But the telling of the story almost takes a weirdly comical turn… think of it as hot potato with the pennant. I understand the symbolism and the need, but dang if it didn’t have me almost laughing at it at one point. It was just so damned earnest.
War Horse has traveled not only miles on land, but also from book, to British stage, to American stage, to screen. I’ve only seen bits of the stage play, and realize there is little that can be compared. The play is highly stylized and brilliant to see. But outside the stylization, it is a standard war story, except for the main characters being a boy and his horse.
Since the story is relatively standard, the movie needed to so something new to make me take notice. It didn’t. There are great moments. There are some phenomenal performances. The technical aspects are breathtaking (though a little too much music in my opinion). The only “big-eyed” moment (Spielberg’s trademark shot) is given to the horse… intentional or not, it felt like an inside joke to me. But as a whole, this is relatively predictable and manipulative journey through war.
What made the stage play so special is exactly what was lost in translation to the screen–it wasn’t reality on stage. So much was imagination and wonder, both good and bad. On screen, filmed as reality, it is just another war story. Albeit, a good war story, but nothing particularly unique. I’m sure it will be a huge success as it pushes all the right buttons and it will get some class A marketing, but I don’t think it is all I’d hoped it could become. But, perhaps, that was impossible to start with given the medium and the material.