<Review by: Sailesh Ghelani>
Directed by Steven Spielberg. Starring Jeremy Irvine, Emily Watson, Peter Mullan, David Thewlis, Tom Hiddleston, Benedict Cumberbatch.
Yes it’s Steven Spielberg and yes it’s been nominated for Oscars but this trying-to-be ‘good old’ film has no charm, no emotion and no direction.
Perhaps just like old veterans Michael Caine and Anthony Hopkins should stop making stupid movies (Caine in the recent Journey 2: The Mysterious Island), so should Spielberg retire to some Jurassic Park or alien planet where he can rule as King.
War Horse is the tale of a boy and a horse that he raises against odds during the time of the First World War as he and his family struggle to make ends meet. Unfortunately, this film is no Black Beauty or Black Stallion. First of all the boy Albert played by Jeremy Irvine is most irritating and completely bland. Secondly, through most of the movie the horse – I forget his name… umm… Francois, no… ah yes Joey – just trots along from one caretaker to the next. Because he is sold by Albert’s drunk and in debt father to the British Army off to fight the First World War against the Germans.
So through the conflict, poor ol’ Joey passes hands from a kindly British captain called Nicholls (a wonderfully essayed but short role by Tom Hiddleston, short because he dies in the war), to German stable boys, to a French girl and so on. Gradually Joey does start ‘emoting’ and you do get a sense of the horse and his friendship with another horse he’s been partnered up with since the war. But never once do you get a sense of his emotional bond with any of the would-be caretakers. There’s never enough time spent or enough character in the, well, characters for us to feel for them when they lose Joey or Francois or whatever they end up calling him. God, the horse probably had an identity crisis by the end of it all!
Albert finally enlists in the army when he’s of age and then shows up in the end to get his horse back. But that’s only made anti-climactic again by him almost losing Joey and then getting him back in not so dramatic fashion. The only truly touching scene in the film is when Joey is caught between ‘no man’s land’ and two opposing soldiers – one Brit and one German – come out of their camps to cut the ‘courageous’ beast out of barbed wire. The banter between these two men reminds you of a wonderful film called Joyeux Noël (Merry Christmas) in which opposing armies call a truce on Christmas day.
Is it a war film or is it a film about a boy and his horse? The couldn’t make up their minds. Director of photography and long-time collaborator of Spielberg’s Janusz Kaminski has shot the film beautifully but you can also tell that unlike the good ol’ days, this film has a lot of CGI for background vistas and oddly coloured skies. And at over two-and-a-half hours War Horse feels like they’re trying too hard to tug at your heartstrings and too hard to make a ‘classic’ when they should realise they’re called classics for a reason.