Every year there is a film that is released that is supposed to be for one and all, that heartwarming story of triumph and goodness. That is what this film War Horse is or at least tries to be. Directed by Steven Spielberg this film is one of his two holiday 2011 releases. This sprawling epic adapted from the children’s book and stage play of the same name.
The film begins in England where a young man Albert, played Jeremy Irvine has a connection with a newborn horse. His father then buys this horse to save his farm and Jeremy trains this horse and becomes very much attached to Joey, what he named his horse. When World War I erupts his father sells his horse to military much to Albert’s dismay. Joey is then made into a cavalry horse and from that begins a journey through Europe during the entire war that spans time in both sides of the war.
To be completely frank this film is about the horse and not Albert. Albert actually disappears for a major part of the film. You’re supposed to root for and feel for Joey. Joey is shot in scene and frames like any heroic actor in any other big film. War Horse is made very well, the directing is excellent, score solid for the type of film this is and the acting very well done if not a saccharine. The one thing though is that War Horse feels like huge big budget production of a hallmark network movie special.
For some it might be hard to buy seeing all these scenes and situations built up around a horse. Joey makes a friend in the army who was once his rival, he loses said friend in a scene to the horrors of war and capture. Joey faces a tank, he befriends soldiers of both sides, and Joey hides out to evade the enemy. We have seen all these things before in other war movies but never with the hero as an animal, at least one that isn’t a Disney talking hero.
Spielberg does some great things with the war scenes. They are huge and sprawling shots of the trench warfare of the time. There is also some great work with use of chemical warfare of the time in one great scene. There are also some great scenes of a grandfather character portrayed by Niels Arestrup and a young actress Celine Buckens as his granddaughter Emilie that were really interesting and film could’ve used more of that to give it a bit more heart.
For the most part this film is very manipulative with how it’s trying to tug at your feelings. Most are going to call this one of the best films of the season or year but while this picture is executed superbly it’s not really earned its heart one bit. Many may enjoy it and if it looks like it’s for you then please do but for those that are iffy about a film about a horse you should probably stay clear.