Solid reviews for War Horse are being rounded up on Metacritic. Highlights from few of the best.
EW’s Lisa Schwarzbaum:
Spielberg, attuned to the power of that equine eloquence, gives Joey and his human costars exactly what they need to run free. This is a beautifully built, classically framed movie, shot with the unshowy natural expressiveness of a John Ford Western by Spielberg’s great cinematographer, Janusz Kaminski.
…No wonder the filmmaker was smitten by the source material: The project is tailor-made for Saving Private Ryan Spielberg, the war-story specialist, as well as for E.T. Spielberg, the chronicler of boyhood desires and yearnings for family… In the end, all who hate war are united as Steven Spielberg’s War Horse unspools to its stirring conclusion. While the book plows ahead on the simplicity of its sentences and the play thunders along on the spectacle of its stagecraft, Spielberg expertly harnesses light, shadow, and landscape in the cause of peace.
New York Observer’s Rex Reed:
Steven Spielberg at the top of his powers as one of the most successful and creative film directors of the past century is the best reason I can think of to get off your duff and head for the cinema on Christmas Day. You will not believe the epic splendor, sweeping drama and heart-stopping passion he brings to War Horse. It’s a rare and genuine movie masterpiece that deserves the label in a thousand ways.
… Like the play, the emotional high point of the film is when Albie finally finds Joey. By this time, you’re so weary from the gas masks, the grenades, the rats and the cannon fire that you can hardly summon the strength for tears, but when Albie, blinded by mortar, and Joey, lame and half-dead, reach the green pastures and rose gardens of Devon, the tears are evident without coaxing. Will Rogers always said, “Horses are smarter than humans. You never heard of a horse going broke betting on people.” True, but when Albie and Joey reunite, two wounded soldiers of war going home together, you feel the values horses and humans can share through love, loyalty, persistence and understanding. It left me emotionally wrecked.
Chicago Sun-Times, Roger Ebert:
It is Spielberg’s homage, I believe, to Ford and to a Hollywood tradition of broad, uplifting movies intended for all audiences. The performances and production values throughout the film honor that tradition. “War Horse” is bold, not afraid of sentiment and lets out all the stops in magnificently staged action sequences. Its characters are clearly defined and strongly played by charismatic actors. Its message is a universal one, about the horror of war in which men and animals suffer and die, but for the animals there is no reason: They have cast their lot with men who have betrayed them.
Spielberg ennobles Joey and provides an ending for the film that is joyous, uplifting, and depends on a surely unbelievable set of coincidences. I suppose it must be that way for us to even bear watching such a story. I am reminded of “Schindler’s List.” Six million Jews were exterminated in the World War II, but in focusing on a few hundred who miraculously survived, Spielberg made his story bearable. Among the horses of World War I, it can only be said that Joey’s good luck was extraordinary.
The film is made with superb artistry. Spielberg is the master of an awesome canvas. Most people will enjoy it, as I did. But not included in the picture is the level of sheer hopeless tragedy that is everywhere just out frame. It is the same with life, and if you consider the big picture, all of us, men and beasts, have extraordinary good luck.
Portland Oregonian, Shawn Levy
“War Horse,” in particular, feels as old-school a film as Spielberg has ever made. …Almost inevitably, Spielberg finds his way into the film’s long-ago setting through the lens of previous films. In its opening passages, as English country boy Albert Narracott (Jeremy Irvine) vows to save his family farm by training Joey as a plow horse, there’s a strong whiff of John Ford, particularly the gruff, homespun likes of “How Green Was My Valley.” Then, when war is declared and Joey is sold to a departing cavalry officer (Tom Hiddleston), eventually passing through a series of hands (a pair of German brothers, a French farmer and his granddaughter, a German artillery unit), you think of the boots fatefully handed from one doomed man to another in Lewis Milestone’s “All Quiet on the Western Front.”
These aren’t distractions, but, rather, points of comparison. In spots, “War Horse” not only resembles those classic films but is as powerful as them: beautifully shot and staged and edited with little sense of showiness. It knowingly and ably uses antique grammar to tell an old-fashioned story in an attempt to move its audience in the way film is widely said to be able to do but rarely does. That’s a commendable aim, and if the film sometimes dawdles, that, too, feels of a piece with its intent to take things slowly.
As its best — in a cavalry charge, in the vile trenches, amid the tangled barbed wire of No Man’s Land — there is a great movie here. But there’s a lot of “War Horse” that feels like the sort of stuff which, when it pops up in an old film, must be willfully dismissed as ‘how they did stuff back then.’ Your ability to do that will, in large part, I think, color your response to it: the pieces of “War Horse” that may charm some eyes might well bore others to tears.