Title: War Horse
Director: Steven Spielberg
Starring: Jeremy Irvine, Emily Watson and Peter Mullen
Release Date: January 13th
War Horse, based on the 1982 children’s novel by Michael Morpurgo and the 2007 stage adaptation of the same name, is Steven Spielberg’s first attempt to depict onscreen the events of the First World War. Prolific in his production of film and television that occur at the time of the Second World War, Spielberg’s newest film is most certainly made with the mentality that he has something to prove, and it cannot be helped but to enter the film with this same mindset.
By the end, Spielberg has proven himself. In fact, he has thoroughly outdone himself. War Horse is very much an epic: an expansive picture, moving from the sleepy Devon countryside to the horrific terrain of the Somme, concerning a wide cast of characters; English, German and French, soldiers and civilians, and how their lives play out during the Great War. All of the above is linked by Joey, the titular war horse.
The film is beautifully shot, with exceptional attention placed on capturing landscape. In particular, the depiction of the Second Battle of the Somme is fantastic, with impeccable colour tone and thoroughly thrilling action. If Spielberg defined the World War II battle set piece with the opening scene of Saving Private Ryan in 1998, he may well have done it again for World War I with War Horse.
However, for all the bluster of battle and sweeping landscapes, War Horse is not without fault, and it is a fault that lies within its broadness and epic nature. It could be argued that perhaps this is a film intended to leave audiences teary-eyed, but there is a sense of disconnection, as if the emotion is like a soft drink marketed as ‘Emotion-lite’. It’s there, of course, but the film becomes far too broad, emotionally obvious and watered-down. It will pull on heartstrings in the most sentimental and simplistic way but afterwards will, for the most part, be forgotten. It is this lack of staying power that sticks out all too clearly and is solely a result of War Horse’s monumental scale.
In a Nutshell: Although a beautifully pictured film, its epic nature goes against the real, piercing emotion and longevity it should possess.