Acclaimed director Steven Spielberg made an interesting decision releasing War Horse just four days behind his animated feature The Adventures of Tintin. Thus far, Tintin leads War Horse at the box office, but trails the Horse in critical reception and award nominations and wins, and for good reason. War Horse feels like an instant classic; it’s beautifully and boldly shot, sentimental and speaks to the power of invisible bonds.
At the cost of thirty guinea Ted Narracott (Peter Mullan) buys a horse. Ted, however, has a bad leg, so the training and bonding falls to his son Albert (Jeremy Irvine), who has an existing bond with the horse, established in the very early opening. When World War I breaks out across Europe, Joey (the horse) is sold to the cavalry, to the dismay of young Albert, who vows to join the service and be reunited with his horse. Joey embarks on a journey beginning with Captain Nicholls (Tom Hiddleston) and travels across Europe through tragedy and glimmers of happiness. But as one German soldier says, “the war takes everything” and it’s only a matter of time before some people’s everything is taken but will Joey and Albert be reunited or will the war claim their everything too?
Screenwriters Lee Hall and Richard Curtis do a great job adapting Michael Morpurgo’s novel and establishing a very rich and sentimental story that’s enhanced by Spielberg’s direction and the cast’s acting. For example, some of the characters exist in the film for short periods of time, yet the strong screenplay and solid performances of those actors tell complete stories within the confines of a subplot, gaining the viewer’s emotional investment in each character. Additionally, there’s a very nice and wisely used prop planted before the war that gains significance building up to its final payoff, which is perhaps one of the most endearing moments of War Horse.
Spielberg shoots incredible action sequences that are detailed long shots combined with medium shots and close-ups – it’s not your typical war scene where only the main characters have close-ups among the mass armies fighting in front of a distant camera. There’s one scene in particular that is really touching and that’s when Joey becomes tangled in barbed wire and two soldiers from opposing armies unite to free him. That moment captures the tenderness of human nature and serves as a strong commentary against war, sending a sublte message of universal peace.
The messages conveyed by War Horse are displayed brilliantly by the actors playing the roles. Newcommer Jeremy Irvine, “Albert,” delivers a stunning performance as a young, compassionate man determined to save his family’s farm and his horse. Irvine acts in a way that lends him perfectly to the early 1900s for the first world war in a performance rivaling that of James McAvoy in Atonement (2007), which earned McAvoy a Golden Globe nomination and still could result in some recognition for Irvine. By comparisson, Emily Watson “Rose Narracot,” Tom Hiddleston “Captain Nicholls,” and newcommer Celine Buckens “Emilie,” are equally as impressive in all of their characterizations as well.
And if all that wasn’t enough, the film’s score by John Williams is magnificent and helps create a classical aura that will travel timelessly into the future with War Horse. Williams’ score at times has a western feel, as if it were plucked right out of a John Ford film. At other moments, the score creates and captures tenderness and sentimentality.
War Horse is rated PG-13 and runs 146 minutes and is a movie both your heart and family will love.