Directed by Steven Spielberg (‘Schindler’s List‘ (1993), ‘Saving Private Ryan‘ (1998)) and based on the novel by Michael Morpurgo, ‘War Horse’ is a moving picture about the strong ties of friendship which develop between a boy and his horse. The film begins with the boy’s father, Ted Narracott (Peter Mullan), buying a horse, Joey, at a horse market for a very high price. Young Albert (Jeremy Irvine) becomes instantly attached to the talented Joey and teaches him to plough to try to pay the family’s rent in Devon. When the war breaks out, however, Joey is sold to the army, but not before young Albert promises Joey to honour their friendship, and to find him someday. Although the film is full of sentimentality, it is also entertaining and heart-warming.
Overall, this film is a moving, “feel-good” one, meant to “inspire” its audience, and boasting as its stellar cast such “big” British names as Benedict Cumberbatch (‘Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy‘ (2011)), Emily Watson (‘Gosford Park‘ (2001)) and David Thewlis (‘Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban‘ (2003)). Some scenes in ‘War Horse’ are brilliantly executed and visually stunning. One of the most memorable scenes is probably the one where Joye escapes from the battlefield: camera moves skillfully here showing the panic-stricken Joey as he makes his way through the war trenches with bullets flying by and grenades exploding all around him.
Although there are many criticisms thrown at this picture, not all of them are just and fair. For example, although ‘War Horse’ is historically inaccurate at times, e.g., the languages used is inappropriate to the times shown, in defence it can be said that this film was never meant to be any historical documentary, but just an entertaining epic film. Also, because of the story depicted, i.e., the strong ties of friendship developing between a boy and his horse, ‘War Horse’, cannot help but be “sentimental”. It is viewed almost as a children’s film would be – with no explicit bloodshed shown. Although some critics also say that the film is too “old-fashioned”, it does manage to tell a story exceptionally well, and that is the most important thing. Another criticism may be that horses in the film are “(over)-humanised” in a fashion which comes close to ‘Beethoven’ (1992) or ‘Babe’ (1996). Although this is true and it is a pity, it is important to note that Spielberg’s movie is about a horse, and about a particular horse. The film follows Joey’s journey, and Joey is the main character. Therefore, it is important to portray Joey’s reactions and sentiments as he encounters different situations, telling the story from the point of view of a horse. Therefore, throughout the film, the emphasis is made on the events that matter to horses, for example, mass killings of horses. People, except maybe Albert, are coming and going from Joey’s life without making any big impact on it. This inevitably means that all the characters in the film are “underdeveloped” movie-wise, but there is also no real need to develop them in the first place. ‘War Horse’ is a family movie, making no claim to historic accuracy or realism.
The only just and fair criticism of this picture is probably that it is too long. ‘War Horse’s running time is 146 minutes, and even if the audience forwards the movie every other fifteen minutes or so, the chances are that they will not miss anything important. There are also many instances in the movie where the plot becomes very predictable, and some scenes feel very “stagey”, and acting – very “artificial”.
All in all, at times unbelievable and historically inaccurate, but very touching and heart-warming throughout, ‘War Horse’ is still a well-told story, showing off Spielberg’s talent for film-making at its most conservative. 7/10