There is little that Steven Spielberg hasn’t done in his long, varied career. He’s made movies about everything from aliens, to dinosaurs, to his acclaimed projects centered around WWII, but it wasn’t until now that he’s finally made a film about “The Great War”. Adapted from Michael Morpurgo’s 1982 children’s novel, which in 2007 became a popular stage play, War Horse is the story of Young Albert Narracott (Jeremy Irvine) and his close relationship with his horse Joey. Set against the gritty backdrop of a WWI ravaged Europe, we watch as Joey finds himself on both sides of the war.
From a glance the whole concpet sounds sappy. Spielberg as gifted a filmmaker as he is has often been criticized over the years for being overly sentimental. War Horse does have a few of those hallmark moments, but for the most part it’s a sincerely made film. I’ve never seen Spielberg’s sentimentality as a crutch or gimmick to pull at our heartstrings. Spielberg simply wants to deliver cinematic escapism and does so in a way that only he can do. I never thought I could care or feel anything about a horse protagonist, but Spielberg is a natural storyteller and continues to accomplishes this with one of the best working teams in hollywood including; cinematographer Janusz Kaminski, editor Michael Kahn, and of course composer John Williams.
With a horse as your protagonist, War Horse doesn’t follow your typical narrative. Joey is a silent protagonist merely trying to function in his environment rather than achieve any specific goal. Initially, I felt this approach would make audiences feel unattached, but the small relationship stories between Joey and the humans that makeup War Horse are emotionally satisfying. Perhaps my favorite portion of the film were the scenes that took place on the battlefield. I can’t recall ever seeing a film about WWI that was this polished. The battle scenes almost made me wish I was just watching a film about people fighting in WWI, but I suppose the small taste of battle combined with the emotional story of a horse gives War Horse a unique blend.
In the grand scheme of things War Horse isn’t one of Spielberg’s more memorable films. I’m not sure I agree with it being considered for awards season either. Yet, War Horse has heart and despite being a big budget hollywood film feels like a film made with love and care and I think that goes far.