War Horse. I didn’t know much about this movie. I assumed it was in the same vein as Seabiscuit (aka “teen kid gets horse and trains it to exceed expectations”). Well, this movie began this way and I was pretty apathetic for the first chapter of this tale. It was pretty predictable. But as the story progressed and the scope of the tale grew beyond a boy and his horse, I started to appreciate what was happening here.
Steven Spielberg nailed this, managing to connect us to this horse in a way that I wouldn’t have expected. I can’t give him credit for the storyline, as this was both a written story and a play before coming to film. But what he (and composer John Williams) managed to create was spectacular. They knew exactly when to create a light-hearted and fun journey and when to make the horrors of war extremely compelling (and almost too realistic).
What works? Visually, the movie is stunning. There are plenty of sweeping shots of the English countryside which gives us a look at the world without violence, but then the action scenes take us right down into the trenches and make us watch the horrors and tragedy that comes with war. There were some scenes that I couldn’t bear to watch, but the scenes that followed always made that tragedy worthwhile and paid off (usually in tears).
The casting was dead perfect. Our male lead is newcomer Jeremy Irvine, who manages to pull off a child-like innocence but also a maturity and understanding beyond his years. Other notables included both Tom Hiddleston (Loki in Thor) and Benedict Cumberbatch (BBC’s Sherlock and soon to be the voice of Smaug in The Hobbit). French actor Niels Arestrup stole the show as a loving grandfather and gave one of the most touching scenes in the movie. Altogether fantastic.
As I watched the movie, my only criticism was that it seemed predictable. But after the first half hour or so, the movie became more than what I expected and ended up leaving me very satisfied. The feelings that Spielberg invoked in me were phenomenal and he knew exactly how to pull at our heartstrings.
This is a perfect family film, as it’s pretty low on violence and profanity, but it manages to echo adult themes that I’m sure most can appreciate (such as the consequences of war, unspoken mistakes, and what one will do for love).
Overall… If you’re looking for something that will have you on the edge of your seat in suspense and then make your heart swell with emotions you haven’t felt in a long time, War Horse is the movie for you.