Sometimes when an amazing director gets older, his films start to get less and less impressive. It could be because there are no longer people around him that will say “no” when it needs to be said or maybe the director is only working on passion projects at this point and is a little too close to the project to make necessary choices. Regardless of reason, I’ve seen it from one of my film heroes recently (Clint Eastwood) and it’s far from an isolated incident.
With that introduction, let me say that I was a little nervous about Steven Spielberg’s “War Horse” when I was headed to the theatre.
The story begins with the birth of Joey, a thoroughbred horse who is purchased by an old farmer (Peter Mullan) much to the dismay of his wife (Emily Watson). The farmer’s son, Albert (Jeremy Irvine), offers to train Joey and, over time, develops a close friendship with the horse. This all changes when Albert has to sell Joey to a military officer (Tom Hiddleston of “Thor” fame) as England is called into WWI.
From what you might call a series of unfortunate events, Joey changes hands between a series of characters on both sides of the battle lines all the while on a journey to make it back home.
As you could probably determine from the title, Joey is the main character in this film. His birth is the beginning of the film and the plot is his story. This might be a detriment to the film for some but Spielberg does a good job of making the horse feel like a human character. Not only do we feel for him in times of trouble but he even has a companion for most of his journey (a fellow horse, not like a cutesy bird or something far-fetched).
It may be Joey’s story, but he is far from alone throughout the film. The supporting cast includes the likes of Benedict Cumberbatch, David Thewlis and the always amazing Niels Arestrup. These actors and the characters that they portray give the audience a human element to see the film through. This keeps the film from being too cartoonish and will certainly aid in storytelling.
At its best, “War Horse” is soaked with an emotional core that drives the film to excellence. From the beautiful cinematography to a moving score by John Williams, the film is sure to move you.
On the other side of things, the fact that audiences are forced to endure an animal as a protagonist isn’t always the easiest sell. While it usually works, I think most audiences would rather watch a human being (not that that would make any sense within this story frame, but it probably swayed a few minds at the box office).
Coming in hesitant, I found myself being wrapped up in the story of a young man and his best friend. Is it Spielberg at his best? No, but it’s still Spielberg.