Director: Steven Spielberg
Written by: Lee Hall, Richard Curtis
Produced by: Steven Spielberg, Kathleen Kennedy
Runtime: 146 minutes
War Horse is about Joey, a horse acquired by a family indebted to their landlord. In that family belongs Albert, a teenager that will ultimately find a best friend with Joey. However, unbeknownst to Albert, Joey was sold by his parents in order for them to survive. This becomes the start of Joey’s journey as he ends up getting in the World War I, albeit with different people with him: a soldier that promised to take care of the horse, two brothers that escaped the group of soldiers going to war, and an innocent girl living with her loving grandfather.
If I am not mistaken, before the film was released, this is one of the front-runners of that year, together with The Descendants and The Artist. Hype immediately died down when it opened to lukewarm reviews, but it was still enough for it to get a Best Picture nomination. And I might just say that its reception is a bit deserved: not that the film is bad – it’s not! However, it’s not much to get excited about, as well.
The execution of the material must be noted for its consistency in providing an old-school and clean cut storytelling. A film does not always need to bring something new to the table, and the intention to keep it to the basics is a good one. One cannot simply shake of the possibility that the film could have been braver. It could have left a stronger impact if it tried to tweak its execution to provide something actually memorable. The film is sadly a forgettable one; one that does not have the guts to create stronger directions, both in execution and in storytelling, because it could have been remarkable. Sadly, it’s not.
The material itself is quite interesting, though due to its structure, there is already an innate tendency for it to come off as episodic, which does not sit well with me. Luckily, the film is written in such a way that the events unravel in a manner as if it is composed in one continuous journey. It does stick to the basics of the usual epic filmmaking, and though there is nothing wrong with that, like the direction, one cannot ignore the possibility of a fresher treatment to the material.
However, it does not lack in technical merits. Each frame is beautifully composed with a keen observation to the warmth of the story and the exhilarating scope of the story. The war scenes could be seen as the more memorable parts of the film, but the countryside scenes featuring Albert and his family are filmed with a genuine feeling of tenderness. It does not drop; throughout the film, the expertise of the camerawork is evident. How the war scenes are captured are simply breathtaking, and the emotions evoked by the ending scenes are just a thing of beauty.
Together with smooth editing and thrilling production and costume design, the film comes to life. The setting feels authentic and complete, and each shot seems to have been very well thought of. To complete the environment is the very well-designed sound work. Its music goes well with the film’s visuals, heightening the film’s appeal to emotion by providing a music score that is emotionally rich and textured. The strings swell in key scenes, and its perfect timing creates a sweeping experience.
The film is composed of quite a number of actors in its ensemble, and all do fair in breathing life to the various characters in the story. Some names worth mentioning are Emily Watson as Albert’s mother, Benedict Cumberbatch and Tom Hiddleston as the English soldiers, David Kross as one of the two brothers who escaped, and Neils Arestrup as the caring grandfather to an innocent girl.I do have a bit of an issue with Jeremy Irvine’s performance as Albert. While I believe he is right for the role, he starts his performance with an utter confusion. His eyes tell the truth of the character, but he makes a voice at the start of the film that feels off. Fortunately, when his character returns, what he delivers is a heartbreaking performance. The result is a bit mixed, but luckily, the film did not dwell that much with his character.
This is a heartwarming film that has the capability to bring emotions that are definitely moving. The craftsmanship and the artistry is present, and that is no surprise since Spielberg is a director which always has a strong sense of clarity in his films, whether be it in the storytelling or in the technical facets of filmmaking. However, a feeling of slight disappointment can be felt after watching the film. There is superb filmmaking in it, but it could have been more. Some moments drown in over-sentimentality, but sentimentality is the way to go, and it succeeds most of the time. I was looking for some edginess, but there you go; there was none.
It’s 3.5 in real time, but I have enough reasons to be kinder to it, given that it really is a fine motion picture, just not a remarkable one.
For this, the film gets:
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