“War Horse,” directed by Steven Spielberg, premiered Dec. 25, 2011 as a war drama featuring the story of a horse passed from person to person in the midst of World War I. Originally based on a children’s book by Michael Morpurgo, this film satisfies basic themes of hope, friendship and bravery in a seemingly hopeless time. Though entertaining and inspiring, the film falls more than a nose short of Spielberg’s earlier masterpieces.
The film begins with a fool’s purchase of a thoroughbred colt at a town auction by a farmer, Ted Narracott (Peter Mullan). Against his need for a large plow horse to work and therefore pay overdue rent to his disheartening landlord, the often drunk farmer with a bad leg, brings the horse home. Despite the criticism of his wife, the family keeps it with the promise that their son, Albert (Jeremy Irvine) will train the animal which he soon names, Joey. The pair build a friendship and together, the often teased “fancy horse,” exceeds every one’s expectations. However, even with the hope and miraculous determination of both Albert and Joey, circumstances build in which the only way to repay the landlord is to sell Joey into the English cavalry at the start of World War I. Over the course of the film, the horse enters the lives of individuals divided by the war including an English officer, two German soldier brothers, and a wishful french girl and her grandfather. The quickly becoming “war horse” finds itself the escape and hope of each of the characters until the animal reaches the front lines of the war itself. The horse at last collides with the terror of human conflict. Meanwhile, Albert has entered the army and is in hopes that he and his friend will be reunited. As a whole, this film builds upon the themes of different kinds of bravery and hope despite total carnage and the pursuit of friendship.
With timeless Spielberg classics to compare such as “Schindler’s List,” “Saving Private Ryan,” “Jurassic Park,” and even “Jaws,” “War Horse” seems to pale in comparison. Though well executed on the roster with other horse movies like “Black Beauty,” it does not deliver the spectacle Spielberg is known for. The acting is well performed especially due to the fact that Jeremy Irvine has only prior to this film been on a UK television show. In addition, the composition of the farmer’s character has enlightening qualities, such as his service in the Second Boer War for which he was emotionally and physically maimed. His regimental pennant becomes another token at first accompanying the war horse, and it too falls into the hands of unlikely people. Of these vignette-like stories, some were better than others. For example, the older German brother has promised his mother to protect his under-aged sibling and he risks desertion to fulfill this. Also, the scenes with the young french girl, Emilie (Celine Buckens), built up the plot as she is orphaned to her grandfather as her parents died fighting. However, in addition to these touching moments, there came several predictable instances and occasions of redundancy upon all individuals agreeing that the animal is a “miraculous horse” and is always falling into attentive and caring hands.
Much of the movie was filmed in very picturesque locations around the English countryside. This served as a sturdy base against the horror of battle scenes. However, brief backgrounds of the sky and hills sometimes appeared to be backdrops rather than the setting itself. Furthermore, the often overly dramatic shots with sunsets made the film feel slightly inauthentic and cliché. As a combination of beautiful scenery, livening plot, and propelling orchestral accompaniment by John Williams, “War Horse” is entertaining and certainly not deserving of failing reviews, but its reoccurring weaker moments prevent it from being one of Spielberg’s best.