War Horse Review

“Not Spielbergs Best But Still A Must See.”

January 18th, 2012

Throughout his career, Steven Spielberg has, on occasion released two films in the same calendar year. With War Horse this is once again the case. 'The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn', which was released earlier in the year, reverted back to classic Spielberg, in the way that older films such as 'Raiders of the Lost Ark' and 'Jurassic Park' dulled down the weightiness of the narrative, to focus more on the visual effects and swashbuckling adventure that audiences crave. Like Jurassic Park, which had the more heavier narrative film 'Schindler's List' released a few months later, Tintin's is followed up by the stronger story lined War Horse. Concentrating on relationships throughout, both people to people and people to animals, Spielbergs latest allows audiences to feel for the narrative more. The spectacle, like you would expect from a Spielberg film is still present, but within this film it is not mindlessly put in to make a scene more dramatic, the narrative achieves this alone. The strongest comparison to this film is 'Saving Private Ryan'. This is because both movies show the harshness of the great wars and the life's and stories that were effected, and lost, throughout. Like 'Saving Private Ryan', 'War Horse' can be hard to watch, as everything you see feels real, you hope good comes to the characters but with the nature of the film, what it is, audiences will know this is probably not going to be the case. Spielberg therefore has created a film, that does not become bleak, dull or depressing, even though the subject matter is maybe difficult to deal with. This film may reduce certain people, both males and females, to tears, however the overall feeling that should be felt is that of friendship and loyalty against overwhelming odds.

Based on a children's novel by Michael Morpurgo, that was released in 1982, from which subsequently a theatre adaptation by Nick Stafford in 1997 was commissioned , meant that by the time Spielberg had decided on producing this movie, as both director and producer, he must have already known that a fan base was already present. Although a lot of people would see this choice as risky and slightly odd, in interviews it is clear that this movie was a labour of love for the source material. This is clear in a lot of ways throughout the movie, with Spielberg creating spectacle whilst not moving away from the material that the book and play give. This does not mean to say that this movie has no flaws, but by adapting his own feelings, it allows for the audience to gain more fulfillment from the characters and plot. With an overly bogged down middle section, it is still apparent that this film has flaws, but when shown next too such moving scenes as the betrayed cavalry charge massacre, panic of those horse running in no mans land to a single german and english soldier calling seise fire so as to free the creature, mirroring the football match that went on during that time. In the grand scale of things these flaws become not apparent to the viewer, through being extremely picky only in hindsight do you realize that they exist. The main strength of this film is the characters and the relationships that they hold to one enough. The selfish landlord, played expertly by David Thewlis, who bullies the main family into selling the horse in the first place, the father of the boy, who is only trying his best, the mother, Emily Blunt, who seems to becoming beaten with regards remaining loyal to her husband, the chivalrous captain, Tom Hiddleston, who wants to do proud by his country, the commander of the cavalry unit, Benedict Cumberbatch, that said captain belongs, the local grandfather and granddaughter who seek to live in peace without conflict affecting them, to the lone soldier, Toby Kebbell who seeks to help the horse in its greatest time of need. All these characters have life and never with the main cast do you feel like they are in place to move the story along, they all have purpose. The greatest characters within this movie and the relationship they share, thus creating the main focus for the storyline, is that of Albert and Joey. Albert originally seems only out to make his family proud. After a while though, it is made clear that he is the type of character that sees good in everything, and is only out to make the world, in his eyes, a better place. Never do you feel like the horse is a pet, from the beginning of there relationship through to the end, you feel like they are more than that, more best friends of even brothers, sharing a connection that can overcome time and distance. It is down, therefore, to Jeremy Irvine to bring this across to the audience, and this he achieves so well that throughout the entire time they are separated you long for them to be reunited. It is through the characters within the movie that the narrative becomes so strong.

This film once again holds a collaboration between Steven Spielberg and film score composer John Williams, only two movies have not. Although it is not Williams strongest score, I felt that the score used throughout this film, was perfect in setting the mood of the screen as well as becoming an accompaniment to what was being shown. Many times I felt that the sounds used added so much depth to the narrative and helped me become more engrossed in what was occurring. This shows that having a great working relationship with another professional, allows for great teamwork and therefore means that the desired affect is more easily obtained. The fact that the music composed in this movie will never be singled out as one of the composers greatest, is a real shame as I felt the music was the second strongest element to the movie. This just shows how strong the other work of Williams is. The third strongest element, in my opinion, is cinematography and the locations used. From the rural farm at the beginning to the war torn countryside in france, each location is spot on. The director of photography must gain some recognition for his work, as very rarely does a films locations match so well as they do in this picture. The shots are beautifully shot, whether through action sequences or more timid meaningful scenes, each one is crafted correctly and it shows. It is clear from only watching this movie that Spielberg deserves his acclaim as the best working director today, as everything is done with such professionalism, it is through only small qualms that I feel this film is only worthy of four stars, the bogged down middle, as well as the unfinished story arcs of some key character.

Overall I was very impressed with this movie, it had me on the edge of my seat for all the high points, but also allowed me to relax and take in all the narrative given in sections where they were highly important. I felt for all the characters throughout and longed for there story arcs to be given a nice conclusion, I felt the cast was immaculate and so well selected, that no one felt like they should not have been there. The music supplemented the moving image correctly and added to the overall feel of the film. This film proves that Steven Spielberg has an uncanny knack of being able to create a concrete portrayal of the great wars, with keeping the narrative rooted to certain characters that the audience is able to connect too. Not Spielbergs best, but in my opinion still a must see.


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  • corey • 4 years ago

    @thomasclarke Excellent work man! This was a great film, but I don't think it was the best of 2011.


    • moviegeek • 4 years ago

      I would break the paragraphs up into smaller ones so it's easier on the eyes.

      But this is really a very strong review! You tackled different dynamics of the film other than just the "acting, directing, blah blah blah". Eventually all of the parts in your reviews will flow better as you write more, but I'm really impressed with your critiquing. Keep up the work!


      • thomasclarke • 4 years ago

        This was my first proper attempt to write a film review and it is so as to help with Uni application, please leave constructive criticism so that I can get better. Thanks