War Horse

War Horse isn’t director Spielberg’s best film, nor is it his worst. It’s Spielberg making a film just because he can.

Adapted from a bedtime storybook of the same name, this epic tale begins when Albert Narracott (Jeremy Irvine ) has to train a thoroughbred colt he calls Joey, to plough through land rented by his father. With the rent overdue and behind on the harvest, Albert’s father sells Joey to Captain Nicholls (Tom Hiddleston), an officer of the British cavalry division, just as World War I is breaking out. Through tragic twists and turns of fate, Joey changes hands (and sides) from the British cavalry to the German army, then to a frail young French girl, then again into the German heavy artillery division, until he is found almost shred to pieces. Meanwhile, Albert has enlisted in the war and although fighting on the frontlines, never gives up hope of being reunited with his horse.

As we have seen before, Steven Spielberg is not a director to sugar-coat war movies. However, going in with that expectation will be frivolous for most viewers, as this film is unlike any other that bears a Spielberg insignia. Although a huge chunk of the plot revolves round the war, it actually focuses on Joey’s trail and not detailed battles or intense war sequences. This also explains the juvenile PG-13 classification. In this regard, fans of Saving Private Ryan or any other action junkie may find this film lacks the standard intensity of a Spielberg release. Instead, what you do find is a high feel-good factor through various facets of the plot. This is kneaded into the story through a perfect blend of tragedy, coincidence and even luck. Some parts of the film are almost a fairytale, but without the magic touches we have come love from this director. The film’s heart-warming moments are, without doubt, the rendition of a strong bond between man and his most domesticated yet noble beast. As such, these moments can only be compared to those last seen in that 1979 classic, The Black Stallion.

Performances are memorable from Jeremy Irvine in the lead, Emily Watson as Albert’s mother and Peter Mullan as his drunk and foolish father. Celine Buckens is a standout as the young French girl Emilie, with some comic moments to boot. Well done for an introductory role. Even with good performance from a huge array of actors, this is thoroughly a director’s film. Sweeping through the English and European countryside, cinematography is not only gorgeous, it hearkens back to old school movies where the production design gives an epic feel to the story, especially during the wartime periods.

For what it’s worth, War Horse is nowhere near his masterpiece, Schindler’s List, but it confidently strides towards art instead of pop-corn entertainment. As a reviewer, I appreciate the finer elements that constitute the making of this film and the intention behind its making. As a Spielberg fan, I see this veteran in a new light and it amazes me that he is still evolving as a director when there is no need to, given the passion and power put into everything he has made thus far. That said, and with objectivity in the closet, I also feel this is Spielberg doing a movie like a tyrant, inconsiderate of the fence between the two ways this film is received – hit and miss.

Rating: ★★★½☆

About Lloyd Bayer

Besides his passion for travelling, photography and scuba diving, Lloyd is a prolific film critic having contributed hundreds of film reviews to web and print journals, including IMDb and local daily Khaleej Times.