There is no need for me to introduce Steven Spielberg to anyone. He is a filmmaker whose name has become a brand in itself. So we can be sure it will be a good one when going to the cinema to see any of his films. After watching his other movies devoted to war, such as Schindler’s List and Saving Private Ryan, my expectations were set very high. I must admit I was waiting for War Horse for a long time, largely because of the director as well as the subject matter. Taken from the bestselling book by Michael Morpurgo, it is an epic story of friendship between a horse, called Joey, and several people, and is set during the First World War: You shouldn’t expect a war film as big as ‘Empire of the Sun’, ’War Horse’ is a true family story.
The film begins in a very positive and cheerful atmosphere: Joey’s birth, witnessed by a young boy, Albert (Jeremy Irvine: Now is Good,Great Expectations), who lives on a nearby farm. Albert observes and tries to engage in Joey’s life however, the horse isn’t impressed with the boy’s efforts and pays no attention whatsoever. Unfortunately, young Joey is removed from his mother and sold at auction. Luckily he ends up with Albert and his parents,Rose(Emily Watson: Red Dragon,Anna Karenina) and Ted Narracott (Peter Mullan: Braveheart,Tyrannosaur).While being with his new owners Joey helps to rescue the farm and keeps Albert company. Their friendship grows. But times are not conducive to innocent dalliances: Joey’s forcible conscription into the ranks of the British Army and his purchase by Captain Nicolls (Tom Hiddleston: Conspiracy,The Deep Blue Sea,Thor) marks the beginning of his long journey where he will learn what separation, suffering and finally the death of loved ones are.
To Spielberg the horse’s odyssey whilst fighting on the frontline becomes an opportunity to draw the emotional landscape of the First World War. Despite the unfavourable circumstances of the characters only their positive traits are revealed to us: nobility, honour and finally the ability to make sacrifices. This can be seen in the scene when the British and German soldiers, shoulder to shoulder, try to release Joey from the tangled barbed wire. Guns and rifles fall silent for a moment. The field of battle turns into the battlefield of the animal’s life. The soldiers become the regular guys, who in other times would have gone for a beer and a joke about their in-laws. In the bloody absurdness of war they manage to save humanity.
Spielberg’s new film will certainly appeal to any viewers who have already had enough of the computer effects that are filling almost every American blockbuster today. In spite of modern trends ‘War Horse’ was made in accordance with the rules of old school cinema: through the amazing work of Janusz Kaminski (Schindler’s List, Saving Private Ryan, Munich) one of the best cinematographers in world cinema, the audience is drawn into the stunning views of the Devon county, deafened by spectacular explosions, entertained by horses and pugnacious goose playing convincingly thanks to their own talent and trainers; all ingeniously created without any extensive use of graphic cards. Also the memorable score by John Williams (Schindler’s List, Sabrina, Seven Years in Tibet), enhances unforgettable emotions. War Horse is certainly a very good production, but isn’t remarkable. So, instead of pulling the hooves in front of your TV, saddle your horse and gallop to see the movie.
Reviewed by Maggie Gogler.