Review by Stu - War Horse

Steven Spielberg has an unusual quirk not shared by many of his peers. He has the habit of frequently releasing two very different films in the one year. In 1993 he brought us Jurassic Park and Schindler’s List, in 2002 Minority Report and Catch Me if You Can and in 2005 Munich and War of the Worlds. 2011 sees Mr Spielberg present The Adventures of Tin Tin and War Horse.

War Horse is based up on the Michael Morpurgo children’s novel of the same name and follows the friendship between a young man, Albert, and his horse Joey as the threat of World War I looms over England. Albert and Joey are separated at the start of the war and we see what both will endure on the road to being reunited.

The film opens with an inspiring sequence in which Spielberg shows off the Devon countryside, beautifully portraying its lush green pastures, rocky outcrops and contrasting natural elements. This sequence is enhanced by a John Williams score reminiscent of the opening shots of the shire in Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring. We first meet Albert Narracott (Jeremy Irvine) as he watches Joey’s birth, and what follows is a touching montage in which we see both characters grow up. All the while, the Devon countryside is captured superbly. We meet Albert’s parents Ted (Peter Mullan) and Rose (Emily Watson) and we learn that the family owns a farm which has fallen on hard times. Ted has bought Joey as a workhorse in order to help rescue the farm from financial ruin.

Due to misfortune and desperation Ted is forced to sell Joey to the Calvary as the war begins. This starts a chain reaction for Joey as he enters the war. We follow Joey as he encounters new owners from both sides of the war, giving the audience an interesting perspective into the realities of war time.

The very fact that this is a war story will draw comparisons to Spielberg’s films Schindler’s List and Saving Private Ryan: each film dealt with war on a massive scale, truly depicting the destruction it brings. War Horse focuses more on characters on the periphery of war. The action in the film takes place at a slight distance from the physicality of the conflict, but although the violence is kept out of sight for the most part, the implication of close-at-hand violence is designed to play at times on the nerves and emotions of the characters. Although a strength at times this also proves to be a weakness. For instance, when Joey encounters an old man and his granddaughter the granddaughter immediately attempts to teach him how to jump hurdles whilst the war is meant to raging nearby, it may be the case that this is intended to the show child’s innocence but it was as if the war was being completely disregarded.

The highlight of this film for me was the costume and set design. The costuming depicted the era perfectly and encapsulated the desperation of the times, for example the tweed jacket worn by the family’s land lord Lyons (David Thewlis) appeared worn at the elbows and frayed perfectly, this gave the costume a lived in feeling. The various sets and locations were stunning, be the family for or the battlefields of France.
War horse is a perplexing film, at times it is very heart felt and emotional and at others is seems disjointed, almost like another film has been accidentally cut into this one. If I had to choose one of Spielberg’s this year I personally would pick the Adventures of Tin Tin. This being said it is gorgeous to watch, there is always a sense of comfort when a skilled director is behind the camera. For a family film at this time of the year it is effective. The story is one of hope, compassion and friendship, something we can all use more of.


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