“War Horse” is the second of two Steven Spielberg movies released this year, which is interesting because the man hadn’t released two films in a year since 2005 with “Munich” and “War of the Worlds.” “War Horse” displays Spielberg’s style with a grand scale that pulls your heartstrings. He has demonstrated this style in previous films, and “War Horse” is yet another gem in Spielberg’s glorious filmography.
Adapted from a children’s book of the same name, the film focuses on a horse named Joey who is raised by a teenage farm boy (Jeremy Irvine) in the English valley. The onset of World War I leads to Joey being sold to the British Army, and the horse embarks on an epic journey across a period of four years. As he touches the lives of soldiers on both sides of the war, he also brings together a more heartwarming relationship between a young girl (Celine Buckens) and her grandfather (Niels Arestrup).
Spielberg and his filmmaking crew used fourteen horses to play the role of Joey, and they all bring a mix of impeccable training and heartwarming appearances to the film, nailing the physical emotions in the most authentic way possible.
The human acting in this film is good overall, even though the film does switch between stories several times in the 146-minute runtime. Jeremy Irvine holds his own to a considerable degree as Albert. He never goes too over the top in pulling heart strings. Though in a minor role as a British Army officer, Tom Hiddleston manages to deliver a reserved performance of compassion and grace much like Spielberg’s handling of the film.
As far as this year in film, nothing except for “The Tree of Life” gets much better than this technically. Janusz Kaminski’s cinematography is beyond breathtaking, as he and Spielberg create shots of immense scale and great attention to detail. The set pieces, especially for the WWI sequences, are established in fantastic detail, whether it’s the variety of colors in the setting or wide camera angles which expand the film’s scope to a greater degree.
John Williams continues to show why he’s the master in creating some of the most emotionally moving scores in cinema history. With scenes that already deliver on the heartwarming family movie scale, Williams takes them further with his soothing and inspiring opuses.
Spielberg directs this film with his classic scope for breathtaking set pieces and sharp attention to detail. Spielberg succeeds in emotionally moving the audience because of his long background working with these themes in the past. In addition, Spielberg makes the WWI battle scenes very intense with the tight camera angles, especially during scenes depicting trench warfare.
While this may be another Spielberg gem, it’s not a perfect film. There’s one short story involving two German brothers and the horse that didn’t have an emotional or interesting enough impact compared to the rest of the vignettes the horse goes encounters. Also, the fact that this film is based on a children’s book ends up highlighting numerous instances of lazily written dialogue between characters.
Despite a few minor details, “War Horse” highlights the magic of director Steven Spielberg’s epic scope, in addition to showcasing the illustrious talent of his longtime technical collaborators. This film is bound to be an Oscar contender, but the film’s huge amount of scenes that pull the heartstrings will divide the overall response. If you’re a devoted fan of Spielberg’s movies, there’s little doubt that you’ll be disappointed.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5