First off, I don't have a right to complain, since I saw this movie for free. My mother won tickets, and this had been on my "to see" list, anyway. The trailer looked impressive.
The movie is not your typical "boy and his horse" story. Rather than focusing solely on the relationship between the horse and the boy who raised and trained him, "War Horse" follows the horse itself through its birth and wartime service. It touches on the lives of several other people on all fronts in the war, with the horse connecting them in a Black Beauty-like fashion.
But while "Black Beauty" is a classic for a reason, I can't say the same is destined for this movie. It had all the expected notes of a good film, but it fell short of great. I'm picky about horse films, and there were a few moments when it was clear that this was a trained horse responding to cues offscreen (or CGI'd in motions or behaviors), rather than an animal acting on natural impulse. The film was missing a clear, unifying element, aside from the connective element of the horse's involvement in the humans' lives, and that of wartime courage and sacrifice. In short, too many vignettes, without a focused path to tie them together. I found several cliche moments, which dimmed my enjoyment of some otherwise spectacular scenes.
The highlight of this movie was undoubtedly the horse's wild run through No Man's Land between the trenches of the English and German soldiers at the battlefront. It was a hard scene to watch, and extremely well done. I found myself clapping my hands over my mouth with horror and sympathy for the poor animal as it careened through mud, bombs, and barbed wire. What happens after that is the saving grace of this film, and an interesting commentary on the human element present behind wars. I'm stingy about my "great" films, and I have to say that if this film contained more moments like that, it would have gotten a "great" from me.
I give "War Horse" a 3.5 of 5 stars, for some well-done moments and some cliche ones. Save your hard-earned cash for the rental on this one!