Steven Spielberg is a master at tugging the heartstrings; films like E.T, Saving Private Ryan and Schindler’s List are a perfect example of this. Spielberg has gotten some criticism for being too overly sentimental, while there is a foundation to build an argument upon it is unfair to use that one critique to discredit the amazing body of work Spielberg has done. War Horse is another one of those tear jerking Spielberg movies, while it is poignant, War Horse is not in the same league as ET.
Based on Michael Morpurgo 1982 novel of the same name War Horse is set on the dawn of The Great War, and much of the narrative concerns the horses’ war time adventures. When Ted Narracott (Peter Mullen) buys a horse in order to ‘win’ over the his landlord (because men do that), he finds himself in his wife’s, Rose Narracott (Emily Watson), bad books and further behind on the rent. He is forced to remove the horse but after some pleading Rose allows the chance for the horse to be trained in ploughing and Albert Narrcott (Jeremy Irvine) accepts the challenge. Albert begins to bond with the horse, naming it Joey, but war arrives and the army need the horse, Albert is left in England while his beloved horse goes off to serve in the battlefields of Europe.
War Horse opens up with some beautifully shot scenes of the rolling fields of the Devon countryside with sheep dotted in the green fields and sun setting on the horizon. Cinematographer Janusz Kamińsk, who like John Williams is a frequent Spielberg collaborator, does an outstanding job, he not only captures the intensity of what I imagine the battle to be like, but also the beauty of the English countryside. Another name worth mentioning is John Williams whose sweeping, soaring score is another mesmerising soundtrack to behold. While John Williams’ soundtracks always manage to bring out a tear, War Horse is different as it didn’t manage to move me as much as I expected, but the fact that movie failed to movie m lies elsewhere rather than at the door of John Williams.
At 140 odd minutes the film is rather long and suffers from plodding pacing, especially at the start as it takes a good twenty minutes to really kick into gear. War Horse is a film with quite a few outstanding scenes, but these scenes do not add up to create one outstanding film. Take for example the simple yet shocking scene that displays the talents of Spielberg, the scene in question takes place at a windmill, as the blade moves in front the screen the horror then occurs behind the rotating blade, out of our eyesight. It’s an outstanding scene that uses a quite simple filmmaking technique but one that leaves a very powerful effect upon the viewer. The other outstanding scenes include a breathtaking change through No Man’s Land and a meeting of an English and German soldier in the middle of No Man’s Land.
The charge over No Man’s Land by British soldiers is the most powerful moment of the film as it is reminiscent of the battle of Somme which claimed over 1,000,000 lives in the five months it was fought, however very few scenes capture the same power as that charge across the muddy fields did. War Horse is let down by its plodding pacing, predictable story and cheesy script written by Richard Curtis, of Blackadder, and Lee Hall. However, the performances across the board are more then satisfactory with new star Jeremy Irving churning out an excellent and engaging central performance. The plodding pacing is caused by the slightly episodic story of the horse, which changes owners several times throughout its adventure in war torn Europe. There are good performances from Benedict Cumberbatch and Tom Hiddleston but their characters are rather underwritten. There are plenty of characters in War Horse, but, with the expectation of Albert and Joey, you never have enough time to grow to like them.
Despite the predictable plodding story War Horse remains a film hard to hate, it may contain some sensational scenes that really display why Spielberg is the most financially successful director of all time but these sensational scenes do not add up to create a sensational film. That said War Horse is mostly enjoyable because clearly its heart is in the right place and it does not trivialise the human element of the war as some have claimed.