Director: Steven Spielberg
Cast: Tom Hiddleston, Benedict Cumberbatch, David Thewlis, Emily Watson, Eddie Marsan, Toby Kebbell, Peter Mullan , Jeremy Irvine, David Kross, Johnny Harris, Robert Emms, Geoff Bell, David Dencik, Niels Arestrup, Pip Torrens
Synopsis: War Horse is a war-drama directed by Steven Spielberg, based on a children`s novel, about a young man who embarks on a journey to rescue his horse from the battlefields of World War I. Albert`s (Jeremy Irvine) pet horse Joey is sold to the cavalry at the outbreak of the First World War. Despite being too young to enlist as a soldier, Albert heads to France to save his friend. Also starring Emma Watson.
Review: Historical detailing has never looked this breathtaking. Cinematography can rightfully claim to be the king of this lucidly well shot film. Because of its historical significance, I choose to harp on its strengths first. It takes you back to the era when Brits wore felt hats and horses were auctioned really cheap. When wars were waged mindlessly and greedy landlords ruled mercilessly. So, it is Circa 1914 and it stands to be salvaged by a horse who is gifted with an unseen before resilience. He and his Master are inseparable.
Perhaps loyalty is an irreplaceable virtue. It is an evolved version of devotion. The movie neatly establishes that so much so that even circumstances have to secretly conspire to keep the animal and his master from straying. It’s a karmic reunion of sorts. Interestingly, the film is a great launch pad for a sturdy horse who when left to Speilberg’s expertise becomes the hero of the film, a messenger for a family, a lesson for soldiers vowing war and redemption for an orphaned girl. A war is futile and it will take a "War Horse" to prove that. But then too much of war history can be boring, it can reduce the film to a war documentation exercise. Wish the plot evolved more around the bond between the master and his blue-eyed horse. So there are moments that leave you gasping at the direction and then there are times when you wish the war could be wrapped up a lot sooner. And a story could surface more prominently.
The film begins with Ted (Peter Mullan) proudly bringing home a pure bred horse from an auction at a whopping amount to get even with his wicked landlord. His wife Rose (Emily Watson) abhors his decision but his doe-eyed teenage son Albert Narracott (Jeremy Irvine) is overjoyed. Albert is a part of provincial England where children were lovable and immensely lonely and deeply attached to the animals they tended to. So Albert takes up the challenge to turn Joey into a flawless asset, so that no one dreams of branding him as useless. So you have Joey in a span of seconds responding to Albert’s whistle and miraculously ploughing a barren field overnight till torrential rains play villain and the death of fresh crop gets Ted to sell Joey to an army officer for the purpose of war. You see Joey being ruthlessly tossed around by fate that takes him from one master to another of every nationality British, German and French till he is finally caught in the middle of World War 1. It is through this journey that you awaken to the ugliness of war that actually amounts to human bodies smeared in mud and blood and horses dying under the burden of dragging ammunition. The devastation is complimented with such beautiful countryside shots that the awakening in true Speilberg fashion gets hard-hitting.
Towards the last fifty odd minutes its Joey who takes over remarkably. It’s the last 50 minutes that make the too long a war film worthwhile. Joey running across no man’s land, fighting odds and in the process getting fatally injured, finally reuniting two soldiers from either side of the territory culminates into a big lesson on screen. The horse becomes a higher moral authority silently expressing a disregard for human pride and every bit of its banality.
To quote Spielberg’s reaction to the opening of the film in Odeon, Leicester Square, he said, "I realized I’d made my first British film with "War Horse" through and through." This sums up the spirit of the film beautifully in his own words. So if you love classic British fair and its middle class sophistication and struggles, you may find a lot to discover in "War Horse". If period films are exciting to the cinema buff within you then history will seem like a breathtaking work of art unfolding before your eyes.
And let me not forget, if you are a stallion lover and a horse owner, you will catch a huge lump in your throat at the heart rending bond that an animal is capable of inspiring. All in all it is visual artistry, era authenticity and a fable on the cruelty of war.
Verdict: If you love classic British fair and its middle class sophistication and struggles, you may find a lot to discover in "War Horse".