Steven Spielberg, probably the most iconic and creative director of our modern time, returns with the long awaited War Horse. The story follows a young man Albert (Jeremy Irvine) and his horse Joey, and their powerful friendship that battles through war, tragedy, and hope. We follow Joey as he’s sold from Albert and becomes a staple in the lives of many throughout the early century.
There’s no denial that there are resplendent aspects to the experience. The beautifully shot picture gives Spielberg a new versatility to explore some of the most tender parts of his cinematic soul. Janusz Kaminski, two-time Oscar winning cinematographer for Schinder’s List and Saving Private Ryan brings some of the most striking images of the year and adds a much needed element of emotion. Along with John Williams’ powerful score which shows relentless execution as he re-imagines some of his other works to allow access for our empathy, these two technical giants are well on Oscar’s radar.
The film’s tranquil nature is surprising as we expect loud, gruesome, and damaging emotional repercussions, instead we are left with a calm, peaceful, and reposing experience. Spielberg hasn’t shown this much restraint before and allows the characters, scenery, and aura to do the narration. Joey’s perspective of war and friendship is a wonderful quality that is worthy of praise. We follow this horse through the deepest trenches of humanity and we still feel like the horse is real, tangible force to be loved and returned. At the core of the film, Joey is the real star. This is Spielberg’s finest venture since A.I.: Artificial Intelligence, a film with weirdly similar common factors. I felt the same type of semblance and emotional connect or lack thereof during the 2001 science fiction film. There’s heart and tenderness right in the meat of the story that attempts to create a form of despondency yet “coming togetherness” in the darkest parts of humanity. It’s not a fluid exposition that feels natural. Often times monotonous and watery, the film never really gets off its feet and slumps its way to the end.
As one of 2011’s breakthrough artist’s of the year, Jeremy Irvine, very reminiscent of Henry Thomas’ work in his career starting work in E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial, is fine, classy, and sure to be a star for years to come. A great ensemble exists here with the likes of Peter Mullan, Emily Watson, Benedict Cumberbatch, and Niels Arestrup. While these four supporting players give the more dynamic performances of the picture, not enough development or substance exists for a lasting connection to be made.
Some details need to be addressed regarding the narrative based on the novel by Michael Morpurgo and then adapted into the Tony Award winning play. Writers Lee Hall and Richard Curtis present a forthright tale about friendship, loyalty, and love however, they inhabit a seemingly tawdry tale without breathing any new energy or discourse to make it more engaging for the viewer. The film plateaus very early on and not until the near finale, does the vivacity elevate significantly and show any signs of life. Even at times, the cheesy dialogue comes off amateurish while not giving any creativity to peek through, especially in many Albert’s interactions with Joey.
War Horse is a fine execution of a popular play that shows signs and moments of brilliance, however, it’s uneven and often tepid script never hooks and leaves the viewer on the outside of this story. I applaud Spielberg’s commitment to quintessence and the embodiment of directing brilliance however, the story fails to develop fully to engage all and instead presents a sensible and steadfast movie experience.