You can always count on veteran director Steven Spielberg to produce something at the very least watchable but often, as is the case with War Horse, something pretty damn great.
He has been accused of sentimentality before and that can most certainly be applied to his latest epic. But is that always necessarily a bad thing? War Horse is without a doubt a sentimental film, quite unashamedly so, but the trouble isn't with being that way as an idea but how it's done. Spielberg hasn't always succeeded in trying to make sentiment work, but here he succeeds beautifully. His skill at making us care about anyone, and indeed anything, is masterful. By making the star of the film a horse, by making him both so heartwarming and iconic (shots of "magic hour" sunlight, for example, making the horse look glorious) he creates a special experience and makes you feel like you're the only one being told this story.
That story - based on the 1982 children's book and subsequent 2007 stage adaptation - is of Joey, a horse who's raised and trained by Albert (Jeremy Irvine) to plough the fields and help keep the family farm. However, one day Albert's father (Peter Mullan) sells the horse out of necessity, much to the heartbreak of Albert, to a soldier who takes him to use in battle after World War I is declared.
The film has the feel of a classic sweeping epic, but one where the emotion matters just as much as the spectacle. If there's any issue to be had with the film it's the episodic nature of it. We see Joey passed from one person to the next as a result of usually unforeseen circumstances, and so inevitably some of those segments work better than others. Couple that with the fairly hefty 146 minutes and it could have used a shorter, more naturally flowing narrative.