War Horse

Drama,War

Steve Spielberg directs competent novel adaptation Reviews

At the start of War Horse, Steven Spielberg plunges us into an overlit, twee vision of early 20th-century UK countryside, and we spend much of the rest of this harmless, conventional adaptation of Michael Morpurgo’s novel seeking – even aching for – the real world amid the artifice. The main problem is that Spielberg doesn’t solve the conundrum of having an animal at the heart of his film.

For Morpurgo, it was a first-horse narration. For the play, it was scene-stealing puppetry. All Spielberg can do is observe the creature, make the most of its few situations of peril and hope the surrounding drama is distracting enough. Fairytale, quasi-mythical visions of life, even war, are fine, but there’s an alienating push and pull here between the savagery of war and Spielberg’s fear of scaring the horses.

By Dave Calhoun
Time Out Dubai,

War Horse

  • Duration: 146
  • Released: Thu, 26 Jan
  • Classification: PG15
  • Language: English
  • Director: Steven Spielberg
  • Stars: Jeremy Irvine, Emily Watson, David Thewlis, Peter Mullan, Niels Arestrup, David Thewlis, Tom Hiddleston, Benedict Cumberbatch

User reviews:

Posted by: Lloyd Bayer on 29 Jan ' 12 at 09:12

A motion picture can be successful in two ways. Commercial success― through box-office returns and popularity of the masses, or critical success― panned by critics for its excellence and relevance as an art form. Sometimes both ways. Having said that, Steven Spielberg is one of few directors who almost always manages to bridge the gap, or in other words, have viewers from both sides of the fence join hands in unanimous reception of the film. Let me emphasize the words ‘almost always’, as this film is an exception.

Adapted from a bedtime storybook of the same name, this epic tale begins when Albert Narracott (Jeremy Irvine ) has to train a thoroughbred colt he calls Joey, to plough through land rented by his father. With the rent overdue and behind on the harvest, Albert’s father sells Joey to Captain Nicholls (Tom Hiddleston), an officer of the British cavalry division, just as World War I is breaking out. Through tragic twists and turns of fate, Joey changes hands (and sides) from the British cavalry to the German army, then to a frail young French girl, then again into the German heavy artillery division, until he is found almost shred to pieces. Meanwhile, Albert has enlisted in the war and although fighting on the frontlines, never gives up hope of being reunited with his horse.

As we have seen before, Spielberg is not a director to sugar-coat war movies. However, going in with that expectation will be frivolous for most viewers, as this movie is unlike any other that bears a Spielberg insignia. Although a huge chunk of the plot revolves round the war, it actually focuses on Joey’s trail and not detailed battles or intense war sequences. This also explains the juvenile classification of PG-13. In this regard, fans of Saving Private Ryan or any other action junkie may find this movie lacks the standard intensity of a Spielberg release. Instead, what you do find is a high feel-good factor through various facets of the plot. This is kneaded into the story through a perfect blend of tragedy, coincidence and even luck. Some parts of the film are almost a fairytale, but without the magic touches we have come love about this director. The film’s heart-warming moments are, without doubt, the rendition of a strong bond between man and his most domesticated yet noble beast. As such, these moments can only be compared to those last seen in that 1979 classic, "The Black Stallion".

Performances are memorable from Jeremy Irvine in the lead, Emily Watson as Albert’s mother and Peter Mullan as his drunk and foolish father. Celine Buckens is a standout as the young French girl Emilie, with some comic moments in the film. Well done for an introductory role. Even with good performance from a huge array of actors, this is thoroughly a director’s movie. Sweeping through the English and European countryside, cinematography is not only gorgeous, it harkens back to old school movies. Production design also gives an epic feel to the story, especially during the wartime period.

For what its worth, this film is no where near his masterpiece, "Schindler’s List", but it confidently strides towards art instead of pop-corn entertainment. As a critic, I appreciate the finer elements that constitute the making of this movie and the intention behind its making. As a Spielberg fan, I see this veteran in a new light and it amazes me that he is still evolving as a director when there is no need to, given the passion and power put into everything he has made thus far. That said, and with objectivity in the closet, I also feel this is Spielberg doing a movie like a tyrant, inconsiderate of the fence between the two ways this film is received.

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