War Horse (M)
Jeremy Irvine, Emily Watson, David Thewlis, Tom Hiddleston, Benedict Cumberbatch, Peter Mullan, Eddie Marsan, David Kross, Toby Kebbell, Neils Arestrup, Patrick Kennedy
War Horse is a sweeping, heartfelt epic set against the backdrop of World War I that shows both the horror and humanity of war from a horse’s point of view.
When Ted Narracott (Peter Mullan) stubbornly outbids his landlord Lyons (David Thewlis) to acquire a beautiful young horse he can not afford, he angers his practical wife Rose (Emily Watson) but delights their son Albert (Jeremy Irvine) who bonds immediately with the horse, naming it “Joey”. Albert trains Joey to help save their farm, but despite his triumph, money is still short and when the war comes, Ted sells the horse to young Captain Nicholls (Tom Hiddleston).
The film begins to build momentum as the horse enters the war with Nicholls and Major Stewart (Benedict Cumberbatch). I cared more about these soldiers in five minutes than I did about young Albert, despite his 30 or so minutes of character building prior.
Through a series of events ranging from touching to tragic; the horse finds itself under the care or cruelty of different masters from both sides of the war. Predictably, the horse is anthropomorphised and shown to be heroic, intelligent, and appears to experience fear, love and loss in the same way a human might.
The French and German characters speak English, which annoyed me, but is understandably done to make War Horse more accessible to a larger audience (including younger viewers who would dislike subtitles). Indeed, this may be the first almost “family” war film that Spielberg has made. The violence is not too harsh and the themes are distressing rather than disturbing.
War Horse has been made on a grand scale and the cinematography is stunning. There is a spectacular battle scene reminiscent of Spielberg’s masterpiece Saving Private Ryan in which young soldiers of the infantry bravely run towards enemy fire.
Director Steven Spielberg sums up War Horse as a film about connection. We see both the best and worst of humanity through the horse’s eyes. There are some powerful emotional moments including a truly extraordinary interaction between an English and German soldier as they call a temporary ceasefire and work together to free the horse from barbed wire. However, the film feels contrived in parts as well as predictable.