War Horse – Movie Review

Steven Spielberg’s new movie is a World War I epic that opens with a view of lush green English fields and hills to set the tone for a quiet hometown, full of farms and grasslands. You have the pesky landlords and the people who can barely afford the rent on their farms. You also have Albert Narracott’s dad, Ted (Peter Mullan), who just bought a horse for thirty pounds just to spite his landlord. His intent was to buy a horse to plough the land. The one he bought hadn’t been trained for anything.

So Albert (Jeremy Irvine) convinces his parents to keep the horse and he names him Joey. Soon enough, the family falls to some financial problems as the crops in the land Joey was taught to plough get swamped by torrential rain and Ted, the father, is forced to sell Joey to the British military as World War I breaks. Albert, too young to enroll in the army and be with Joey, is forced to stay home as Joey goes into the battlefield and strays from one owner to the next, all in a quest to go back to Albert, a journey that will take him from Albert, the devon farmboy, to a British cavalry officer, a German soldier, and an old Frenchman and his granddaughter, Emilie.

One cannot speak of War Horse without describing it as an overly sentimental movie. But you embrace that. The rousing emotions in the movie hide away some of the plot holes that many people started to dig up with it such as: how could they focus on the journey of a horse through a war that cost ten million people their lives? The answer is quite simple actually. War Horse is based on a children’s story. And just as other children’s books, also sharing a world war timeframe, do not focus on the war (The Chronicles of Narnia come to mind), War Horse does not dwell on the morbidity of it even though the movie is violent at times. War Horse is a quest for life.

Many British actors and actresses have small roles in War Horse. You have Albert’s mother Rose (Emily Watson) in a brief but strong performance as the woman who’s the counterpart to her husband’s ‘insanity.’ At one point, when her husband asks her if she doesn’t love him anymore, she answers: “I can hate you more. I cannot love you less.”

War Horse is Jeremy Irvine’s, who portrays Albert, first movie ever. And he manages himself remarkably well. You wouldn’t think this is an actor whose career was launched a couple of years ago with a little known TV show and who got the role in War Horse without agency representation.

However, the very interesting thing about War Horse (apart from the aforementioned elements and the ones presented below) is that the movie relies on human actors to a very minimum. In away, the human aspect of the movie is simply a link between the acts where the horse, Joey, takes center stage to tell its story. It’s truly fascinating to think of War Horse as the movie that is really centered and built around this horse and how the actors and actresses simply become, for lack of better words, props.

Apart from the splendid backdrop to which War Horse is filmed is also a brilliant music score composed by Harry Potter’s John Williams, the man responsible for the infamous Hedwig’s Theme. War Horse‘s music is stunning, mesmerizing and enchanting. It is also so present in the movie that few are the moments in War Horse that do not have some form of musical instrument playing in them.

War Horse also looks stunning. I did some research here and apparently the cinematographer Janusz Kamiński (previous works include  Saving Private Ryan & Schindler’s List) shot the movie on film stock, a technology which is apparently becoming an antiquity. I do not know the technicalities of this but I thought it was interesting enough to mention. I decided to research this because there was a beautiful texture to the image of War Horse that persists throughout. One shot towards the end has the Naracott’s farm to the backdrop of a stunning sunset and it’s such a gorgeous scene to look at that your eyes cannot move off the screen.

Steven Spielberg honestly shines in directing War Horse. I can say this is one of his finest works – or at least one of my favorite Steven Spielberg movies. Although some of the elements in the movie are oversugared, it simply doesn’t feel forced. You don’t feel as if Spielberg made them as such to make his movie more family friendly. The whole plot, along with the technical elements employed in the movie, are weaved together into a great texture by the masterful hands of Steven Spielberg.

The bottom line is that War Horse is a movie that, whether you like it or not, will get past your emotional defenses and get you to feel something – anything – at the end of its long run. It is gorgeous to look at, it is mesmerizing to listen to. The story is enchanting (and again keep in mind this is based on a children’s book) even though it’s obviously not made to be Earth shattering. It is the movie about the human-animal relation centered around what the animal human can do. At the end of the day, War Horse is emotional. War Horse is sensational. War Horse is phenomenal.