War Horse is definitely a sentimental film. But you should not go into War Horse thinking that that is what it's all about. It's really about WWI and all the horrible tragedies that occurred during the war. Yes, the main character is a horse and the heart of the film is about a boy and his quest to find his horse. But it has violent and saddening battle sequences along with the sentimental moments. In fact, Albert is essentially gone in the middle part of the film. It's not until the final act that he returns to a major role in the movie.
When I saw the trailer for War Horse, I noticed that there were a lot of characters that looked like they were going to have subplots in the film. I thought that Spielberg might not be able to intertwine those characters into the story. But he does it perfectly. Basically to put all the characters together, he has the horse move around and meet all these characters until the final act where the horse is back at war after being with two young boys and a grandfather (Niels Arestrup) and his granddaughter.
The acting is perfect and I couldn't think of any of the performances being any better than they were. Jeremy Irvine as Albert is great and could go down as another one of Spielberg's great kid actors. But the best actor is not even a human. It's Joey. How Spielberg got that horse to do what he wanted I have no clue. But his performance is spot-on.
John Williams' score is also used frequently in the film and while it's not as good as his classic scores for E.T., Jurassic Park, Star Wars, Jaws, or Harry Potter, it still is very good and adds a lot to the film.
War Horse also depicts some pretty intense combat. There are soldiers killed for deserting, piles of dead horse, soldiers on cavalry slicing down other soldiers, mustard gas, and lots of explosions and gunfire. This is a perfect film for teenagers, but too intense for the youngest kids. The film has little on blood and leaves most of the violence to your imagination, unlike Saving Private Ryan. A perfect example of this is a scene where British soldiers are charging a German camp on horses and the Germans get their machine guns and shoot at the soldiers. All you see is riderless horses running by the German machine guns. Spielberg has said that he just needed to find an alternative to the violence he depicted in Saving Private Ryan, that is still intense and upsetting and horrific, but not graphic. He does it perfectly.
War Horse is a perfect film. It's entertaining, it's sentimental, it's horrific, and everything else you would want from a movie. Older preteens and teens are sure to enjoy this film. The film has a long runtime at 2 1/2 hours but it flies by. Spielberg has created another classic with War Horse.
THE FINAL GRADE: A- (8.6/10)