War Horse (2011)

Directed by Steven Spielberg
Written by Lee Hall & Richard Curtis

When I learned that one of my favorite directors, Steven Spielberg, was releasing two films this year I got really giddy. What a joy for the master to return to the film world with not one, but two films! Of the two films, War Horse and The Adventures of TinTin, I was admittedly much more enthused for the latter, having slight apprehensions about how good War Horse could be. I was still excited because it had a great cast and it was Spielberg. I was also excited that it focused on World War I, the world war that gets far too little coverage in media these days, but it still seemed like it might be too soft. Boy was I wrong, and now I can only hope that The Adventures of TinTin is as spectacular as this film was.

Albert (Jeremy Irvine) is the son of a poor farmer (Peter Mullan) and his wife (Emily Watson) living in the English countryside. When his father spends too much on a pretty horse (Joey) instead of a strong plow horse, the farm is in jeopardy from the landlord (David Thewlis). But Albert and his determined attitude befriends the horse and the two overcome the impossible only to have the world break out in war and cavalry officer Nicholls (Tom Hiddleston) to buy the horse from the farmer. Albert vows to one day find the horse. During the war, Joey, the horse, goes through many hands and never ceases to amaze or make a deep connection to its “owner”. But during the turmoil of war, is it possible for Joey to survive, and for Albert to ever be reunited with his friend?

I think the films greatest strength is in its pacing. For a film that is nearly two and a half hours long it never feels a minute long. The beginning of the film might drag a slight bit, but it is necessary to set up the wonderful story to follow. How Spielberg is able to accomplish this feat is the great screenplay adapted by Lee Hall and Richard Curtis. They chose to tell the tale in a series of vignettes essentially, following the horse as he travels through the hands of the men fighting the war. It works beautifully and is amazing because the horse is the main character and never the human. There is never a dull moment and in fact the film has its fair share of completely marvelous scenes.

The team of human actors is great to watch as well, with many vaguely familiar faces and no big time stars. Everyone turns out a good performance, except maybe Peter Mullan who seemed to be trying a little too hard, but his part is small enough to not concern me too much. And what I really liked about the film was that the British were played by British actors, and the Germans by Germans and the French by French. There is a certain level of authenticity that rings true through the performances for this reason. I fear it would have been more difficult to watch had Spielberg and his team used American actors using accents. I loved seeing Eddie Marsan and the return of young German actor David Kross, who impressed me a few years ago in The Reader.

As with any Spielberg film, the images seem to soar across the screen and are filled with a surprising amount of emotional impact. I have seen it time and again and still it surprises me. This soaring effect is of course aided by one of Spielberg’s closest collaborators composer John Williams, whose scores over the years have become as iconic as Spielberg’s films and this score is just as impressive. The cinematography is interesting in a different kind of way. I have always noted the wonderful use of light in Spielberg films and there is some great shots captured here, but there is a weird color scheme and a few fake looking shots that, while not detracting from the rest of the film, were a little weird. But this film just has everything to please the audience with great heart and emotion. But what I most liked about the film was how brave it was in its depiction of WWI. There wasn’t really any graphic violence, with everything pretty much suggested, but it is about time every one learn how uniquely horrific World War I was.

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