War Horse is Hollywood’s latest attempt at adapting a popular well-loved novel into a worthy cinematic counterpart. In this case, the film is an adaptation of a popular children’s book from author Michael Morpurgo. War Horse begins in Devonshire, with a blossoming friendship between a horse named Joey and a young man called Albert (Jeremy Irvine), who tames and trains him. When they are forcefully parted, through Joey’s enlisting into the WW1 cavalry, the film follows the extraordinary journey of the horse as he moves through the war, changing and inspiring the lives of all those he meets. Throughout the war, Albert is persistent in trying to find his beloved horse, leading to an emotional and ruthless search for Joey in the heart of No Man’s Land.
To adapt a sentimental concept of such epic proportions, this was a job for one man, and one man only. It is easy to see that War Horse was a story almost tailor-made for director Steven Spielberg. Known for taking on grand scale, nostalgic projects, he fits the part perfectly. Alongside this, the film draws on further well-fitting talent, making full use from the crème de la crème of British acting. Tyrannosaur’s Peter Mullan and Tinker Tailor Solidier Spy’s Benedict Cumberbatch showcase the fresh talent and success emerging from British acting right now. Ignoring some dodgy Devonshire accents here and there, the cast is fully injected with a number of well-known, respectable actors who help to elevate the film further with their performances.
Despite his Jewish background, Spielberg plays the film out to be sympathetic to both the British and German soldiers of WW1. A profound yet humorous scene shows the momentary alliance of a British and German soldier on the battlefield, as they work together to cut Joey the horse from barbed wire. The film more obviously revels in how the same level of empathy and recognition given to the soldiers, should be given to the horses of wartime, who struggled through the same trials and tribulations. Full credit here can be given to the on-set trainers for their successful humanisation of the horses within the film. They, incredibly so, give performances to rival that of any a-list actor, and their actions and expressions make us emotionally invested in them, so that we are cautious of their every move and on their side in every battle.
Aesthetically the film does not disappoint. Long sweeping takes of dramatic war carnage, probably costing more than the entire budget of an average British film, boasts just how big-budget War Horse became. The historical accuracy of the film at such a grand-scale shows just how lavishly Spielberg likes to spend his Hollywood dollars, and almost to what extend he relies upon them. Despite his label as a movie-monopolising machine that is guaranteed to bring in an impressive profit, there is another reason as to why Steven Spielberg gets these kinds of budgets. He knows how to move his audiences. It is surprising just how much a story of one brave horse can touch the hearts of many, and War Horse will certainly emotionally stir even the most stubborn and cynical of cinemagoers. Spielberg has taken a children’s book and made it universally appealing to all ages, and if his lengthy years in the film business have taught him anything, it is how to play a symphonic melody with all of our heartstrings, playing on every emotion, teasing every weakness.
This film definitely will not go down as the most experimental film you will this year, but it indulges you with a perfectly executed, conventional and tear-jerking blockbuster. Audiences may now be growing tiresome of generic period-WW1 epics, but this film has found a new way to approach and revamp the tiresome genre, from a new, exciting and four-legged perspective. If there was such a think as a cinematic soul mate, Spielberg most definitely found his in War Horse. And as always, he got the job done.