DVD Release Date: April 3, 2012
Release Date: December 25, 2011 
Rating: PG-13 (for intense sequences of war violence)
Genre: Drama, Adaptation, War
Run Time: 146 min.
Director: Steven Spielberg
Actors: Jeremy Irvine, Peter Mullan, Neils Arestrup, Emily Watson, David Thewlis, Benedict Cumberbatch, Tom Hiddleston, Celine Buckens, Eddie Marsan, David Kross

Let’s not forget that movies are moving pictures, and that a great director teamed with a great director of photography can produce a great film. A great script is the ingredient needed for a masterpiece, but well directed, stunning visual work is sometimes enough to overcome shortcomings in the storytelling department.

Director Steven Spielberg and cinematographer Janus Kaminski have that kind of fruitful relationship. They first teamed on Schindler’s List but are best known for their work together on Saving Private Ryan, particularly that film’s unforgettable version of the Allied assault on the beaches of Normandy, with Kaminski’s cameras giving the action an immediacy and you-are-there quality that made the sequence so impressive. Saving Private Ryan didn’t win the Best Picture Oscar—the prize that year went to Shakespeare in Love—but the director and cinematographer continued to work together on a list of memorable, if not always completely successful films: A.I.: Artificial Intelligence, Minority Report, Catch Me If You Can, The Terminal, War of the Worlds, Munich and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. That last film was their one bad misfire.

Now we can add War Horse to the list of Spielberg/Kaminski efforts that turned out rather lackluster. Handsome to look at and featuring a war sequence on par with the opening battle sequence of Saving Private Ryan, the film flags considerably as it wears on. The emotional peak of the movie comes at the story’s conclusion, but it’s not enough to forgive the strangely uninvolving story up to that point. (Reports of audience members weeping at early screenings of War Horse were not borne out at a local screening, where nary a moist eye could be seen among exiting theatergoers.)

War Horse, adapted from a book by Michael Morpurgo that also served as the basis for a successful stage play, tells the story of an English farmer (Peter Mullan) and his son Albert (Jeremy Irvine), who bonds with a horse named Joey. The father, increasingly desperate as he faces the loss of his farm, sells Joey to a military man, Captain Nicholls (Tom Hiddleston), who promises Albert he’ll take good care of the animal. The captain even promises to return Joey to Albert one day, if possible. Nicholls becomes the primary human character in the story as he takes Joey into World War I, where the British troops are confronted by German guns and other modern weaponry.