War Horse (2011)
A young man develops a remarkable friendship with a young horse on a farm in Devon. However, World War 1 breaks out and the horse is taken by the army. The film follows the horse’s story as well as the young man’s experiences on the battlefields of Europe.
It’s not very often that I put family movies on here, nor is it a frequent occurrence for me to go to a cinema to watch one. But, thanks to a friend, I had tickets to an advance screening of this latest offering from Steven Spielberg.
The film starts off like a made-for-TV movie that you might find on some non-descript sky television channel. A young man (Jeremy Irvine) and his family are beset by farming woes but purchase a horse, and with the boy’s help, this horse manages to save the day. I should say that the boy’s boozy and haunted father is played by the brilliant scottish actor Peter Mullan but the mother is largely forgettable. Irvine does a decent job as the movie’s main protagonist – other than the horse of course.
However, once we get to the actual war the film changes gear a bit. As you might expect from Spielberg, trench warfare is portrayed realistically and quite savagely. The film looks wonderful on screen and some scenes are quite breath-taking – my favourite being the summary execution of two German deserters behind a cycling-windmill at night. I mean it’s one of the best camera-shots I have seen in some time, which further coupled with the marvellous finale filmed against an early evening sky, makes for astonishing viewing.
It’s an emotional picture interwined with scenes of both violence – althought nothing as brutal as in most recent war movies – and comedy. There is a wildly amusing sequence, laced with some witty dialogue, in which a British army officer and his German equivalent club together in No Man’s Land to cut the horse free from barbed-wire. More generally, the Germans in the movie are portrayed in quite a positive light with at least 3 of the movie’s characters being good-hearted men of the kaiser.
On the other hand, the notion of the horse as the main character just didn’t really work for me and whilst all of the characters are quite interesting in themselves, we don’t really feel as if we know them because they are just bit-parts in the horse’s tale.
Understandably for a family film, it’s all very heavy on sentimentality and towards the end of the picture this was beginning to gnaw at me. Another drawback is the predictability of the whole thing – there is nothing to surprise or shock you in this warm story – which is actually quite disappointing for a movie including so much warfare and emotional strife. It’s just a bit too formulaic.
I won’t take anything away from the ‘technical’ brilliance of this picture – it really is superb – but I was a little surprised at the lack of character development from Spielberg.
Nevertheless, it’s an enjoyable movie which will pull your heart strings in certain scenes at least – and honestly, I would recommend it to everyone.
hotdog rating: 7/10