War Horse Review

Spielberg is back in vintage film-making (quite frankly, where he draws most of his inspiration and undoubtedly belongs when he is not making original material). And it’s good to see the Berg back on sturdy ground as a filmmaker as well as a story teller.

War Horse though you can tell from the offset what type of drama it will be; how long it will take to get to the meat of the story; and how often you can expect to leap between the light and dark elements of the story. In a sense then, the beat of the film is utterly predictable. Thankfully Spielberg, his regular crew and a truly wonderful cast (Brits and otherwise) do a great job of delivering the drama in the highest of quality they can.

The horse in question is Joey: whom we see birthed, raised, bought and broken in before being sold off to the war effort abroad where he has several masters on both sides of the fences. All the while, his first owner/trainer Albert (Jeremy Irvine) pines (sometimes a little too much) to be back with his closely bonded steed. Eventually Albert himself gets caught up in the trenches.

The many masters Joey has are for the most part very engaging themselves as characters – each with their own different plight. And it is strange that the film should portray most of these masters as very sympathetic towards animals, regardless of what their orders may be. It is a comfort that Joey never has a true bastard of an owner standing by his side. The focus of the drama is more focussed on the hardship of war on all it afflicts.

You know that come the third act Joey is going to have gone through hell on earth. You know that with the Berg at the reigns it’s going to reek of pain; although censored and artistically shot (A windmill execution in particular stands out). It will also smell foul from time to time of sentimentality (every owner has their moment, and tears could well flow); but the film shows the bonds between individuals as well. Whether it is between Joey and his masters, or the supporting characters with each other. And this is never the more staged than when a British and a German officer both free Joey from barbed wire in no man’s land.

Technically the film holds up well. Whatever CGI they used in this film (especially with the horse) is seamless on first viewing. John Williams is on hand as ever to provide a strong score. The cinematography is taking a huge handful of inspiration from Gone With the Wind (and you’ll wonder why Britain looks so yellow and red in the sky) which adds to the epic nature of the films bookends.

It’s a strong return to form for Spielberg, although despite the epic scale, you do kind of still feel that he has gone for easy material in which to return his status to top form. Obviously the film of this book/play by Spielberg was going to be this good – it was all there. He just needed to film it.



Steven Hurst

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