Steven Spielberg has been involved in a lot of interesting projects since he first made his mark on the film world with Duel, his everyday story of road rage in California, but I think it's safe to say that his latest effort, War Horse, is not his finest hour.
Any film about animals, especially a beast as sympathetic - and, let's face it, dumb - as a horse, is bound to be sentimental, but as Charles Moore writes in the Telegraph , this one is manipulative and comes close to crossing the divide between the merely maudlin and the irresponsible. War may be hell, but handling serious themes (and it doesn't get much more serious than the First World War) in such a facile way is its own kind of hellishness.
The story, such as it is, includes almost every stock character in film, including the bitter and twisted, drunken war hero father-of-the-hero, who was so disillusioned after serving in the British army "at Transvaal" (note to Spielberg: Transvaal was another name for the Boer-ruled South African Republic at the time of the Boer Wars, not a battle) that he chucked away his Distinguished Service Medal, the poor man's VC no less. Then there is his wife, who is long-suffering, naturally - and quite hot, to boot -as well as being the recipient of one of the film's corniest lines (some achievement) when her useless husband's latest screwball scheme falls apart.
Loser husband (in fake Devonian drawl): "You'll end up hatin' me, wifie."
Lovin' wife: "I may hate you more, husband o' mine, but I'll never love you less."
Fast forward to France and, for me, the best bit of the film. The wonder horse has somehow ended up on a farm which boasts its own windmill - very useful for when the English come after the war and the demand for gites goes throgh the roof. On said farm live grandpa, who, as Moore points out, is a dead ringer for Anthony Worrall Thompson, with his very tasty looking grand-daughter. At this point, the guy doing the screenplay throws in the towel and, instead of writing his own lines, decides to mine old episodes of 'Allo 'Allo.
I weel say zis only wurnce, but pops and leetul Emilie manage to hide two horses upstairs in her bedroom (don't go there - the film doesn't) while half the German army search for their livestock.
"Vee know you haff horses becoss there iss straw in the barn," says Fritz.
"No, we use that to fill the mattresses," Emilie shoots back, her sangfroid saving the day.
There's still time for the horse to jump over a tank, meet Blackadder and co. in No Man's Land, make a miraculous recovery from tetanus - even if he's actually galloped into the wrong trenches (Spielberg having transplanted the Battle of the Somme from 1916 to 1918) - lay hands (hooves?) on the hero's eyes so he too can make a miraculous recovery from mustard-gas induced blindness, and finally wander off not into the sunset but back out of the sunset to the little house on the moor where he was born (near as damn it, anyway).
As my daughter said as we were wiping away the tears after the show, "It makes you cry and it's not even a good film."