The stirring WWI drama War Hose features Steven Spielberg at his sentimental, grandiose best in this story of “the horse that could”.
“Sentimental” is almost considered an offensive word by critics, especially by detractors towards Spielberg’s brand of filmmaking. However, one could argue that schmaltz is a difficult thing to execute. Turn it up too little and the effect doesn’t register. Turn it up too loud and the results can be overpowering to the point of sickening. In War Horse Spielberg has perfected the method, delivering one of his more emotionally powerful films in the process.
The film begins in country England on the eve of WWI, where young man Albert Narracott (Jeremy Irvine) has met his kindred spirit in a fearless young horse named Joey. When Britain is plunged into war Joey is sold to the army and begins a journey across battlefields and borders, touching the hearts of those he comes across. Consider this the Forrest Gump of horse movies.
A broad cast of European character actors ranging from Scotsman Peter Mullan, English rose Emily Watson and French scene stealer Niels Arestrup all turn in fine performances while newcomer Jeremy Irvine holds his own up front. Yet our heart belongs to the many steely steed’s that “play” Joey, who is majestic in look and valour.
The look of War Horse is important with Spielberg and his long time cinematographer Janusz Kaminski going for old school, picture post card imagery that harkens to the epics of John Ford and William Wyler. A grand score by John Williams also suits the vibe.
Of course Spielberg has done war movies before, but this is the first time he has ventured into World War I territory and he does so without delving into any type of politicking or historical naval gazing.
Both sides of the war are presented equally as humans foremost and soldiers second. There is one brilliant scene where an English soldier and his German counterpoint take time out from the relentless fighting and bond over poor Joey, who has found himself stuck in the middle of their battlefield. And while War Horse doesn’t have the same bloody carnage of Saving Private Ryan, it is still features ear splitting, earth shaking battle sequences that Spielberg does well.
Based on a children’s novel and the subsequent stage play, War Horse is the right kind of material that fits the talents of Spielberg and his regular cohorts. The end result is a deeply satisfying, moving movie that features a master filmmaker at his best in years.