Review: War Horse
Director: Steven Spielberg
Cast: Jeremy Irvine, Emily Watson, Peter Mullan, David Thewlis, Benedict Cumberbatch, Tom Hiddleston
He loves creatures that make our female friends go ‘aww!’, or make us shudder. He is traumatised by the Great Wars. And of course, his dislike for the Germans is well established. From E.T. and The Adventures of Tintin to The Color Purple and Schindler’s List, the Peter Pan of Hollywood has given us some of the most engaging, emotional films that have fired our collective imagination. The epic Michael Morpurgo novel War Horse feels like a natural Spielberg pick right from the beginning.
The story of Joey, a beautiful and wilful English steed and his experiences during the course of World War I, it has all the elements that we have come to expect from a Steven Spielberg creation. On the flip side, it has all the potential to become what most of us men dread - a dreadful gooey, soggy tearjerker.
In one scene, as Joey is sold off to a British Army officer for war duty, a gruff stable-hand admonishes Joey’s heartbroken teenaged owner Albert (Jeremy Irvine) - “Enough of it, me lad. It’s a horse, not a dog” That, in a way, sums up Spielberg’s approach to his material. The director exercises phenomenal restraint in crafting a visually stunning film and steers clear of heavy melodrama that tend to be the staple of stories about animals and their owners. We are treated to vignettes of Joey’s life as he goes from being a beautiful colt from Devon countryside to the eponymous warhorse in war ravaged no man’s land.
While the loving interactions between Joey and the owners have a soft, fuzzy feel about them, Spielberg contrasts this with harsh battle sequences using his legendary expertise in creating realistic war scenarios. In what is the best scene in the movie, the warring sides work together to save Joey, underlining the fact that beauty (and animals) brings out the best in us humans.
It is evident that War Horse has epic ambitions. The film’s unhurried pace, evocative score and spectacular cinematography succeeds in evoking that old world nostalgia about a time when films were about stories and characters. However, it is Spielberg’s restraint that undermines the film’s epic ambitions.
Despite its scope, though, War Horse has a detached feel about it. We never feel emotionally pushed off the edge. As such, we are left with that feeling of being robbed off a bit of melodrama that the film demanded and deserved. True, it’s a horse, not a dog. But War Horse deserved a few more 'Aww!' moments along with its stock war visuals and stereotypical German portrayals. And that is a bit of a let down from an otherwise fairly enjoyable film.