Love him or hate him, legendary American filmmaker Steven Spielberg certainly knows how to make a blockbuster, and that is exactly what you’ll get with his latest endeavour War Horse (2011), complete with an impressive British cast including Jeremy Irvine, Peter Mullan, Emily Watson, Tom Hiddleston and Benedict Cumberbatch.
Adapted from Michael Morpurgo’s successful children’s book by Lee Hall and Richard Curtis, War Horse follows the story of Devonshire boy Albert Narracott – played with great gusto by Irvine – and the horse he raises from a foal who he names Joey. Albert enlists to fight in The Great War after his horse is sold to the cavalry, with the film’s story traces their intertwining fates as they travel through war-torn Europe.
There is much to enjoy about War Horse, most notably Spielberg’s triumphant return to that which he does best – dazzling, lavish, cinematic spectacle. His latest effort has all the usual trappings you would associate with the director – family values, sentimentality and popular appeal. Of course, the success of the international stage show has already proven the public popularity of Morpurgo’s work, yet Spielberg’s approach has added an element of grandeur which sometimes dwarfs the charm of the theatrical production and original novel.
The production values are suitably impressive with magnificent scenery and the occasional nod to John Ford – particularly in the closing scene featuring a bright orange sunset. Equally impressive is Spielberg’s intelligent and child-friendly approach to violence, at times reminiscent of the horror seen in his 1998 World War Two hit Saving Private Ryan, yet stripped of the gore to suit the film’s family audience.
Both the unmistakable John Williams soundtrack and Spielberg’s cinematic storytelling approach will have audience’s heartstrings pulled to-and-fro at every available moment. War Horse is a highly emotive, undeniably sentimental film, but for those who have been raised on Spielberg’s canon, this sentimentality is something to be relished and enjoyed. However, whereas the romanticised quality of the film is justified and enjoyable, the overly-long run time of 146 minutes is unfortunately not – there is much that could have been cut in order to finish with a more concise film.
War Horse is without a doubt an highly entertaining slice of popular, mainstream cinema. It may lack gravitas and subtlety, but neither have truly been Spielberg’s strong suit, preferring to excel with great family films that are simultaneously heart-warming, emotive and spectacular – War Horse successfully manages to tick all three boxes.