Directed by Steven Spielberg
Dripping with that signature Spielberg melodrama, War Horse is a beautifully shot, well-paced, but ultimately predictable war drama. Spielberg hasn't been this good for years.
There are some directors who have had great success in pioneering a method, and spend the rest of their career recreating that style. Steven Spielberg is one of these directors, but not in the same way as someone like Tim Burton or Wes Anderson, whose signature styles are totally unique. Instead, Spielberg produces movies so unmistakably generic, they can only possibly be by him.
Despite being astoundingly unoriginal, War Horse is still quite an entertaining movie. At nearly 140 minutes, time passes surprisingly fast, moving from phase to phase at a good rate, never lingering on any particular segment long enough to becoming difficult. With the main focus of the film being on the changing scenery of the titular horse, we are given a look at how the war affected everyone, from soldiers to civilians. The effect that this horse has on the lives of those surrounding him and the way he interacts with this environment makes for the most interesting aspect of the film; Though a similar thing was done in Robert Bresson's Au Hasard Balthazar with far more dramatic impact.
Since the human characters appearances are often fleeting, we don't find ourselves attached to any particular owner of the horse, which was obviously Spielberg's intention. The most screen-time any of these owners starts right from the beginning with an alcoholic rancher and his son, who is the horse's "real" owner. Though the connection between these two isn't as strong as one might hope, it is strong enough to make you root for them to reunite in the end. One can't help but to wonder if too much of this movie's melodrama is wasted on this single relationship, but being what is supposed to be the driving force of the dramatic storyline, I can forgive it.
Out of all the performances in this movie, the one that stood out to me most was Niels Arestrup. My only complaint would be that his screen time was too limited, but he manages to make the most of his relatively brief appearance. David Thewlis and Peter Mullan also perform well, as does the rest of the cast, but it's Arestrup that I found most engrossing.
As cliched as it may be in plot and premise, the technical aspects alone make War Horse a worthwhile experience. With some of the best cinematography of the year, there are few movies released that carry the visual appeal of this film. With the sweep and scope one might expect out of a Spielberg war epic, this movie is certainly not a disappointment aesthetically. One particular scene near the end I found quite marvelous; Set during a battle scene, the horse runs through the trenches with explosions and firefight happening in every direction, makes for one of the most impressive scenes of the year.
John Williams' score is remarkably bland, and considering his past work composing the iconic music for such classics as Star Wars, Indiana Jones and Jaws, I was hoping for more. Still, the music plays well with the action on-screen, so despite its lack of character, the score was well-suited to the film. The same rule applies for much of the rest of War Horse -- generic, but very well-done.
There are very few visible flaws in this movie (aside from lack of originality, which these days is a very common problem), and in spite of myself, I found it quite entertaining and engrossing. A splendid return to form for Spielberg, and probably his best directorial effort since 2002's Catch Me If You Can. Definitely worth watching.