Starring Jeremy Irvine, Emily Watson
Scott’s Review #1,268
Reviewed June 19, 2022
Director Steven Spielberg has an enormous catalog of films to rank and paw over. From his dabble into the horror genre with Jaws (1975) to fantastical melodramas like E.T. the Extraterrestrial (1982), his best work to me is the dark and powerful Schindler’s List made in 1993.
The recent remake of West Side Story (2021) is also brilliant.
My point in mentioning a few of his films is to compare them to War Horse (2011). The film is mediocre when comparing it to the great director’s filmography but there is no doubt the film is extremely well made, lavishly directed, with a wonderful and heartfelt storyline that will make suckers of most viewers.
The main result is that the film doesn’t resonate very much beyond the closing credits especially when matched against Spielberg’s other films.
War Horse did achieve several Oscar nominations mainly because it’s a Spielberg film after all but came away empty-handed. This is not surprising because it’s the type of film that is trying to get awards notice.
A successful Broadway adaptation preceded the film which was also based on a novel of the same name from 1982.
Albert (Jeremy Irvine) and his beloved horse, Joey, live on a farm in the British countryside. At the outbreak of World War I, Albert and Joey part ways after Albert’s father sells the horse to the British cavalry out of necessity.
Against the backdrop of the war, the horse begins a journey full of danger, joy, and sorrow, as he transforms everyone he meets along the way.
Meanwhile, Albert, unable to forget his friend, searches the battlefields of France to find Joey and bring him home.
It’s interesting seeing the different settings and situations the horse gets into. From England to Germany to France, so many cultures are explored. Joey even bonds with another horse named Tophorn, a black stallion.
The film is as syrupy and sentimental as the summary suggests and that is okay. I fell for the story hook, line, and sinker. Seeing the film in a movie theater on the big screen was a wise choice because the sentimentality oozes to audiences leaving not a dry eye in the house.
Spielberg polishes and shines his film like nobody’s business utilizing all the lavish Hollywood trappings like superior editing, sound, and cinematography.
It’s a Hollywood film plus a hundred.
Despite a safe-leaning film Spielberg wisely does not skate over the ravages of war. Several characters that the horse encounters die tragically leaving him in a state of temporary peril.
Unsurprisingly, War Horse satisfies those audiences seeking a fairy tale ending but the fun is the journey we are taken on.
Actor Jeremy Irvine appearing in his big-screen film debut is exceptional and quite likable. War Horse may be his pinnacle film since he hasn’t done all that much since this meaty role.
The main takeaway is friendship and the bond between human beings and animals which cannot be severed. The mere thought of this brings a tear to my eye and Spielberg wisely manipulates the audience, whisking them away on a journey of forever friendship.
This is not exactly a bad thing.
The war backdrop is a fine addition and the exquisite beach scenes and the glossy images of the horse are fantastic. Hundreds of horses were used and clever editing provides rich and authentic texture.
War Horse (2011) is a film with all the standard characteristics of an old-style film that Hollywood used to make. The sum of the parts doesn’t add up to much beyond the experience and it’s not a film worth seeing over and over.
It’s a one-and-done affair but a lavish production of heartfelt ideals.
Oscar Nominations: Best Picture, Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography, Best Original Score, Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing