Spielberg Shows Horse Sense

War Horse depicts some of the horror of war without ruining Christmas

War Horse by Steven Spielberg

The action jumps ahead a couple of decades and the war that Sherlock Holmes averted eventually comes to pass in War Horse, one of two seasonal offerings from director Steven Spielberg. Spielberg is a sentimentalist and an extremely talented director, but we get more of the former than the latter in a movie that is nicely calibrated to depict some of the horror of war without ruining anyone’s Christmas.

The first half-hour is set on a farm in Devon in 1914, as a struggling farmer impulsively buys a spirited thoroughbred colt at a horse auction instead of a more practical work animal. The farmer’s son, Albert, raises and trains Joey, then is heartbroken when his debt-ridden dad sells him to the army as a war horse once hostilities with Germany have broken out. Shipped over to the European mainland, Joey has a series of adventures, starting out as the personal mount of an English officer but eventually pulling ambulance carts and heavy artillery for the Germans. Without giving too much away, let’s just say that this horse comes supplied with a fifth horseshoe up its butt.

Spielberg the great shotmaker is little in evidence, but there is one dazzling sequence where a couple of hundred British cavalry soldiers mount a sneak attack through grass so tall that you can see only their heads as they rush down upon an early-morning camp of unsuspecting Germans. Unabashedly designed to be entertaining, War Horse often shows an almost corny sense of humour as it goes about its business. It’s also the sort of war movie where the French and Germans obligingly speak English, even amongst themselves. Not as emotionally engaging as it should be, this is decent but unambitious family entertainment (that won’t break the hearts of horse lovers).

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