In War Horse, Spielberg uses his considerable talents to give us a film that feels like it could have been presented in the 40's or 50's - that type of "big" film where an all encompassing tale is told by what happens around the title character. Unfortunately its sentiments (except for the underlying "war sucks" theme) are equally stuck in that aw shucks kind of smaltz.
However, there is no denying that the craft at work here is noteworthy - intentionally using a low camera angle, everything looks bigger than life; and the color saturation and use of shading and light are indeed expert - if only the script were equal to what Spielberg put into it.
I'm not saying that the story sucks - but that it certainly requires you to suspend not only your logic, but your belief in so many instances, but once again, this happened so frequently in those aforementioned 40?s type films.
In following the story line, there are coincidence heaped atop coincidence - and really , much of it I give a pass to - but the film should have ended with the young man being reunited with his horse - that would have been just perfect; but no, the script just couldn't leave well enough alone - having to tie up just about everything that had gone on before in one nice big package - unnecessary, and overly sappy; and truly unfortunate.
So why the more than just passing grade? Well, because I got swept up in the wonder of it all - and was truly vested in what was to become of Joey the War Horse - and it only bugged me in a kind of subliminal way that the horses' actions often defied any kind of - dare I say it - horse sense. That Joey bonded with another stallion is not very likely , for in horsey world, said horse would be nothing more than a competitor for breeding rights , though it did make for some heart rendering scenes.
I also have to comment that Spielberg's portrayal of the horror of war was magnificent : from scenes of carnage to the horrors of mustard gas and the barbed wire filled no-man's land; wow, the horror, the horror (to quote some colonel from a much later war). I really felt the message here - what is it all for? Why, throughout the history of our species, do we insist on nation building and taking sides ? Spielberg makes this abundantly clear in the poignant scene in no-man's land where a Brit and a German soldier meet to try to extricate Joey from a barbed wire entanglement (a metaphor perhaps). Here were two young men, on opposite sides, yet finding common ground in their mutual goal ; to the point where both had to have been wondering what they were fighting for - this so much reminded me of David Crosby's song "Wooden Ships" and the final line "we are leaving, you don?t need us".
There is also a nice little subplot that deals with the industrial age and the end of an era. The charge of cavalry and close in fighting becoming taken over by rapid fire guns, heavy artillery and mechanized warfare and war becomes even more impersonal.
So in closing, a very worthwhile film view for the craft and some of its sentiments, but held back from greatness by being overly sappy at times: like watching My Friend Flicka or Black Beauty; films from a simpler time.