Young Albert enlists to serve in World War I after his beloved horse is sold to the cavalry. Albert’s hopeful journey takes him out of England and to the front lines as the war rages on.
Year 1, Day 247
BEFORE: Continuing on with historical dramas, this time set in WWI, we have Steven Spielberg’s War Horse. One of two Spielberg films released in December of last year War Horse was nominated for six Academy Awards and was initially scheduled for the end of my Oscar month. That didn’t get to happen so I’m watching it now. And instead of rambling saying a lot before, I’ll just get on with it.
AFTER: Analogy time! War Horse : World War I :: Saving Private Ryan : World War II. This film is Spielberg doing what he does best which is telling an emotional story set in dangerous and complicated times. In many ways Spielberg surpasses he previous films in the war genre but the interesting twist in this film presents more problems than it does benefits.
I forgot exactly where I heard it but I remember in his press coverage for Lincoln which came out late last year said something along the lines of, “I can make war films, the fighting and action, in my sleep now.” There is no doubt in my mind that of all the directors, the one that has produced the most memorable and realistic war films is Steven Spielberg. Now before I go into a long rant about how great the battles were in War Horse keep in mind that there’s much more to this film than the fighting; I’ll be getting to that in the next paragraph. The reason I am talking about the fighting is because it plays a key role in the film; setting the atmosphere and providing the purpose for the film. Without the war, the story of War Horse would not exist. This conflict is what propels this film from a story about a boy and his horse to one about the effects of war and how it affects all relationships; not just between a boy and his horse but between soldiers, countries, family, and friends. And for this to be effective it needs to feel as if a war is going on and not just some shooting here and there. This is where Spielberg shines. Towards the end of the film there’s a scene in the trenches and no-man’s land during the Second Battle of the Somme. Visually you get that sense of danger, a loss of hope, depression. Many will die; these soldiers know that and we see it in the battlefield. Even adhering to a PG-13 rating (basically means no blood), you still get the same feeling as you do in Saving Private Ryan in the opening scene on D-Day at Normandy. These two examples are the epitome of a war scene.
But as I said before, War Horse isn’t all about battles and fighting. Behind it all is the story of how the war affects people. In other words, it’s not about the fighting itself but the consequences that the fighting has on others. As I mentioned before there’s a bit of a twist in War Horse and that is that the main character is a horse. You might think the main character is Albert Narracott (Jeremy Irvine) who raises the horse and later on joins the army. It’s true he is quite important for in the beginning and ending of the film but in the middle chunk, everything is focused on the horse and the new people he comes in contact with. First there’s Captain Nicholls (Tom Hiddleston) of the British Army, then a young German soldier Michael (Leronard Carow), a French girl Emilie (Celine Buckens) and her grandfather (Niels Arestrup), Private Friedrich (Nicholas Bro) - another German soldier, and finally a British soldier named Colin (Toby Kebbell). This twist (I keep saying that only because I can’t think of a better word to describe it) is where my issues with the film lie. On the one hand, I enjoyed being able to see many different people of different walks of life (military, civilian) because it helped give a sense of the broad outreaches the war has on people. On the other hand though, the film did slow down considerably in the middle and no single story matched the depth that was shown between Albert and the horse. To have a good hour-plus chunk right in the middle of the film of brand new character interacting with this horse for maybe ten, fifteen minutes at a time made it feel as if the film kept restarting. It’s difficult to have a horse be your main character and portray all the emotion you need it to. Spielberg is able to do this with Albert’s character because there is time to grow and develop, but for the rest of the film, it’s just a horse.
Compliments are due regardless. Spielberg delivered yet another fantastic film with beautifully directed battle scenes setting the tone for the entire film. While the story is an interesting one that gets its point across occasionally (see: beginning and ending), there are large portions of the film where you are left struggling to connect with this horse and the people he runs into. Still, War Horse is deserving of it’s Best Picture nomination and is well worth watching.
RATING: 4 out of 5