The Happiest Medium Review by guest contributor Anjali Koppal .
I’ll admit it — knowing nothing about horses and not being an animal lover, the only reason I initially jumped at the prospect of watching ‘War Horse’ was the fact that it is directed by Steven Spielberg. Not ‘Executive Produced’, not ‘Presented By’, but directed. A sensitive story of friendship set against the backdrop of war torn Western Europe sounded like the kind of familiar territory Spielberg has explored and indeed mastered in the past, so I was ready for the return of the magic. I’m happy to report that the sparkle still exists, though it doesn’t quite shine as brightly as vintage Spielberg.
‘War Horse’ is the story of Joey, a majestic thoroughbred horse that is born and raised in the English countryside in the loving care of a young boy, Albert (Jeremy Irvine, simple and earnest). In the course of events, though, Joey falls into the possession, in turn, of a zealous troop of British soldiers, a desperate German contingent, and a French family trying to live in peace amongst endless warfare. Each owner comes to learn in a new way how miraculous this horse is; from its staggering speed, to its feisty resilience, to its adorable sense of mischief. And each person who comes across Joey comes to love him with an intense passion. In the four long war years of grenades and gunfire and smoke and death, Joey brings a sense of hope, happiness, and calm to these individuals.
Given that the story is based on a children’s novel, it should not be of surprise that it is rather simple and predictable. So the good remain good, and the bad remain bad (until a life changing experience changes their mind, that is). This simplicity is endearing at first but can get tiring, especially when John Williams’ wonderful, soaring score leads into a scene that is beautiful, but expected. Also, the characters are severely one dimensional, leaving no space for the cast to spread their talented wings, though each delivers a solid performance within their limitations.
The story and setting allow for plenty of slow, sweeping moments, and Spielberg takes them all. These are gorgeous, especially when seen on the big screen, but one grows weary of them eventually, especially when they slow down the story.
Spielberg is most clearly in control during the war scenes. He holds the reins on the pace of these sequences, and your muscles tense and relax as per his directorial command. Spielberg also seems back in form during the scenes where Emilie (the little French girl with the distracting accent) is interacting with Joey, though these humorous, heart warming moments are all too rare.
All in all, ‘War Horse’ is a loving saga of friendship in the time of war, that allows for the occasional lump in the throat but has a seen-that-before feel to it. If you’re an animal lover though, ‘War Horse’ is probably a perfectly warm and fuzzy way to celebrate these holidays with the family.
~~~War Horse directed by Steven Spielberg Opens in the United States on 25 December 2011 Opens in the United Kingdom on 13 January 2012 The cast includes David Thewlis, Benedict Cumberbatch, Jeremy Irvine, Emily Watson, Tom Hiddleston, and Peter Mullan.