Best Movies of All Time + War Horse



"Can you imagine flying over a war, and you know that you can never look down? You have to look forward, or you'll never get home."
-- Grandfather

War Horse is a 2011 dramatic war film directed by Steven Spielberg that serves as an adaptation of the 2007 stage play of the same name, which in turn was adapted from a 1982 children's novel by Michael Morpurgo. When his father drunkenly purchases a beautiful thoroughbred horse in the hopes that it will plow his fields, Albert Narracott (Jeremy Irvine) defies expectations and trains the horse, which he names Joey, to do just that. Despite his success, a spot of bad luck forces Albert's father to sell Joey to the army when England goes to war against Germany. The horse is placed into the care of Captain Nicholls (Tom Hiddleston), who takes Joey into the very front of the war against the Germans. From this moment, an incredible adventure begins, with Joey first fighting with the English then with the Germans. At the same time, however, Albert has made it his solemn vow to find Joey and bring him home, no matter the lengths it may take.

(Note: While the above plot synopsis is a tad bit sparse, I think I've conveyed the basic story outline of the film without giving away too many of the plot details. I'd rather not engage in spoilers more than I must in order to craft this review successfully.)

The first thing you're going to notice about War Horse is the beauty of its cinematography. In the film's opening scenes, we're placed in a beautiful English countryside as we (slightly) witness the birth of Joey and the start of Albert's fascination with him. From there, we're gradually taken into the depths of wartime efforts, an area in which we know Spielberg is well-versed (see: 1998's Saving Private Ryan). As the film trudges onward, the cinematography and set pieces become gloomier and gloomier, and the visual aspect of the film helps to create and enhance the mood that the audience should be feeling. It's rare that the visual aspect of a film will affect me so deeply, but with Spielberg at the helm, I should have known we'd be in for such a spectacle.

Fortunately, the rest of the film corrals around this beautiful central aspect and complements it rather well. In terms of creating the mood, I'd have to say that composer John Williams did a stunning job with the movie's score. This is the second Williams-scored film I've reviewed in the past few days - the first was the also-Spielberg-directed The Adventures of Tintin - and of the two, I'd have to say that this one feels more like a Williams score. It's sweeping and truly interpretive of the grandness of this film, and it aids the cinematography in creating the film's overall atmosphere. Here's a little snippet of the opening title sequence, for your listening pleasure:

While it is those two cinematic devices that work most effectively throughout the film, there's still quite a bit to say about the most pressing issues: the screenplay and the acting. Let's start with our storyline, shall we? In a sense, it's a very straightforward story. The audience is essentially following Joey from one locale to the next, seeing his plight as he traverses the European countryside in the midst of the horrors of war. In a way, the film is split into a series of vignettes. As Joey makes his way from one caretaker to the next, the tone of the film shifts as well. As a story, it's a little bit complacent and sappy at times, but I can see where an individual could find an emotional connection. There were moments where I was truly terrified for Joey and his well-being, so in that, I have to say that the film succeeded in crafting an emotional bridge. At the end of the day, however, the sentimental nature of the film was just a tad too much for my personal liking. It just seemed a little too over-the-top and gentle. Then again, knowing that this was based off a children's story might add a little bit of perspective to that insight.

The acting in the film is solid, if not all that spectacular. Jeremy Irvine does well as our film's lead, and his bonding with the horse that played Joey seems terribly genuine, and they work well together on-screen. There are some rather recognizable faces hidden in the swarming ensemble here, and yet, there isn't one particular character who stands above the rest, save for perhaps the Grandfather (played by Niels Arestrup) whom I quoted at the start of this review. Be on the watch for the following appearances in the film:

Peter Mullan as Ted Narracott, Albert's father
David Thewlis as Lyons, the landlord
Benedict Cumberbatch as Major Jamie Stewart, Captain Nicholls's commanding officer
Celine Buckens as Emilie, the Grandfather's granddaughter
David Kross as Gunther, a German soldier
Eddie Marsan as Sgt. Fry, an English soldier

At the end of the day, however, War Horse didn't particularly land that emotional punch that I so expected it to give. Nearly all the positive reviews I've read on the film have mentioned that the film pulls at the heartstrings, but aside from a few fleeting moments, there just didn't seem to be that much depth to the film. That doesn't mean that I found it to be terrible; on the contrary, I thought it was a well-constructed and beautifully-shot cinematic adventure. I only fear that the memory of the film will be as fleeting as the moments of emotion I was able to enjoy during my watching of this movie.

Movie Review Summary
Grade: B+
1.5 Thumbs Up

2011, Benedict Cumberbatch, Celine Buckens, drama, Jeremy Irvine, John Williams (I), movie review, Niels Arestrup, Oscar nom, Peter Mullan, Steven Spielberg, Tom Hiddleston, war, and more:

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