A refined and not entirely disagreeable slice of square-jawed drama with the smooth, uncomplicated contours of film made to please the broadest possible audience, Steven Spielberg‘s War Horse clings steadfastly to very old-fashioned — and sometimes torpid — notions of emotional engagement. With its episodic stabs at poignancy, there’s not much to assail with fury here, but neither is there much about which to get passionately excited or interested.
Notwithstanding the well received nature of its source material, and the array of accomplished below-the-line artisanship brought to bear in its adaptation, War Horse — a self-consciously epic story, set against a sweeping canvas of rural England and Europe during World War I, about a teenager (Jeremy Irvine) and his connection to and unlikely reunion with the family’s horse — is a movie with very rigidly prescribed and not particularly ambitious melodramatic inclinations. Screenwriters Richard Curtis and Lee Hall, working from Michael Morpurgo’s novel, get plenty right in the period detail, but never find a way to make a dramatic throughline really stick, and when the film actually goes off to war its grip loosens considerably. For the full, original review, from Screen International, click here. (DreamWorks, PG-13, 146 minutes)