Director: Steven Spielberg
Cast: Jeremy Irvine, Peter Mullan, Emily Watson, Niels Arestrup, David Thewlis, Tom Hiddleston, Benedict Cumberbatch
Synopsis: Primarily, this film is the story of Joey, a horse raised and trained by young Albert. To cover expenses on the farm, Albert’s father sells Joey to the army at the onset of WWII. What follows is an anthology film, as Joey experiences different treatment from a variety of owners. Meanwhile, Albert himself joins the ar effort, with the hope to be reunited with his horse.
Spielberg is a man with a variety of genres under his belt, and yet when you watch one of his films, it certainly bears his mark. This remains the case with War Horse, which in many ways blends two Spielberg stylings in the one film. The War has clear similarities with Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan, despite being visually distinct from that film, while the Horse provides the wonder that is the bond between a young adult and his non-human friend, a la E.T.: The Extraterrestrial.
What results is a film that really works. The anthology that one observes as Joey continuously changes hands includes observing the trials of a rural England existence, on the front line of British cavalry, the German perspective of the same conflict, and the hardships of civilians in occupied territory. At times this threatens to throw out the balance of the film, yet Spielberg’s sure hand guides each story to a definitive, if not always uplifting, conclusion.
As this is a film more about people than it is about war, it relies upon the performances of its lead characters. Irvine seems initially a bit too wide-eyed and naive as Albert, but as the film progresses he delivers just the right tone, and he has a very convincing bond with Joey. Arestrup is another stand out performance, playing a man looking after his orphaned grand child, and he does a lot with relatively little screen time. The other amazing roles were played by Hiddleston, the first officer to own Joey, and a sympathetic character given he keeps Albert updated on Joey’s well-being, and Cumberbatch as his commanding officer. Cumberbatch is perhaps my favourite actor of the moment, with an incredible range to match his incredible voice. Seeing him as a cavalry officer actually had me think he would be the perfect actor to portray a young Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart in a 50th anniversary special for Doctor Who. Given his connection with Steven Moffat as Sherlock Homes, the prospect is not very implausible either. Though I digress.
John Williams’ score for any film is always brilliant, though at times in this film I did find it a bit obtrusive. Also, there were some “only in the movies” type co-incidences that also managed to take one out of the story and remind them they are just sitting in a movie. For the cynical movie goer, some of these instances are clearly sign-posted from the early moments of the film as well. Regardless, this film remains a very moving experience, and is an example of Spielberg in his finest form. I believe that even the most cynical will be moved by the final frames, which deal with simple wordless emotion that is understated simply because an intelligent audience need no more prompting.
4 stars out of 5