2011, Jeremy Irvine, Emily Watson, David Thewlis, Toby Kebbell. Directed by Steven Spielberg.
It can be difficult to sum up a movie that runs for about two and a half hours in a concise way, but I’ll give it a shot.
War is hell; army horses are soldiers, too; war is stupid; horses are generally smarter and possibly nobler than most people. Steven Spielberg is a magician who can make a fantastic movie out of what most any other director would turn into a maudlin, tedious, predictable, war movie.
I was afraid that this was going to be an overly sentimental period piece but I should have known better. Spielberg is much better than that, and he has proved it once again. Yes, there is a lot of sentiment in War Horse, but it didn’t succumb to boring predictability. The first part unfolds slowly with well-defined characters portrayed with great skill, giving the viewer an opportunity to really get to know them and become invested in their futures. The pace shifts when their futures involve trying to survive the savagery of WWI, and we are charging into battle only to discover how horrific war can be. The intense battle sequences might remind you from time to time of Saving Private Ryan, but this film tells a very different tale.
A sweeping, epic saga that deftly focuses on intimate human stories, this movie depicts the suffering and privations that war brings to all soldiers, no matter which side they fight for, as well as innocent civilians caught in the middle. And it does it very well.
Jeremy Irvine, the young man in the role of Albert Narracott, was very good and he is probably going to be a hot commodity for quite some time. I was pleasantly surprised to recognize Toby Kebbell in a smaller, yet pivotal role. I first enjoyed him in Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time and then also in The Sorcerer’s Apprentice; more recently I saw him as John Wilkes Booth in The Conspirator. Kebbell is one of a handful of actors who can really stand out in any role, even a small one. He’s one to keep an eye on.
To sum up, this isn’t Seabiscuit or Secretariat; it isn’t even just a pretty movie about a boy and his horse. This one has heart and depth with gorgeous cinematography and a beautiful score by John Williams. Need a break from loud, mindless overly-CGI’d action flicks or cookie-cutter, overly-CGI’d comic book adaptations? Go see War Horse and experience what a good movie is all about.
One of the things that struck me about this movie was the similarity in several points in the movie to the cinematography in “Gone With The Wind”. The yellow and orange skies in shots of people moving along the horizon at sunset (or sunup, depending on your perspective). The pull away shots of the resulting battlefield carnage after the fight is over. Don’t get me wrong – great movie. I just didn’t think that I would have the urge to quote Rhett and Scarlet while it was playing.