From its initial form as British writer Michael Morpurgo’s children’s book, War Horse (2011) has since been adapted for the stage and now for the screen by arguably one of cinema’s finest exponents of the Hollywood blockbuster, Steven Spielberg. Having won all manner of plaudits in its previous formats, Spielberg, on this evidence, certainly appears to have been the perfect choice to bring War Horse to the big screen, drawing on all of the usual weapons from his storytelling arsenal to convey a tale of family values and war.
Boasting an impressive British cast, including Jeremy Irvine, Peter Mullan, Benedict Cumberbatch, Avengers Assemble (2012) star Tom Hiddleston and Emily Watson, the story follows Albert Narracott (Irvine) a young man from a financially bereft Devonshire family who raises a young foal named Joey, who is subsequently sold to the army following the onset of The Great War. This ultimately leads to Albert enlisting for battle, as the film follows the pair’s individual paths throughout the war.
There is certainly more than enough on offer with War Horse to keep audiences entertained. Spielberg’s sprawling cinematic landscapes are often stunning, offsetting beautiful sunset vistas with grim depictions of war in the harshest of conditions. Whilst maintaining the family appeal by showing very little in the way of blood and gore – think a child-friendly Saving Private Ryan (1998) – War Horse still manages to reflect powerfully on the horrors and the loss of war. Furthermore, the choreography of not just Joey’s scenes, but each of the battle scenes involving horses, are truly remarkable, with the beauty of the animal’s sequences going some way to tugging a little bit harder at the audience’s heart strings.
However, it is this element of War Horse that serves as its one major drawback. With what is already a sincerely touching tale, Spielberg’s overwhelming persistence in trying to pull at one’s heart strings eventually becomes tiresome and occasionally irksome, particularly at the film’s climax.
Despite these moments, War Horse is still a stark reminder of the power of Spielberg’s visual sensibilities, even if his storytelling will always be somewhat heavy-handed. While not perfect, there is still more than enough on offer to keep the majority of viewers at least mildly entertained, with only the staunchest of cynics unable to find something positive in what is ultimately a heart-warming family movie.