Review – War Horse

Every time a new Steven Spielberg film comes out it feels like a good friend you haven’t seen for years is coming to visit.  You start to reflect on all the good times you had together, you fear they might have changed, or worse, they’ve become a complete arsehole!  It seems the sins of ‘Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull’ deserved double atonement so Spielberg is hitting us with two films in 2011 that are released in Australia on the same day, the motion-capture comic book adaptation of ‘The Adventures of Tin Tin’ (which will be reviewed later on The Popcorn Junkie) and the World War 1 epic ‘War Horse’.

Albert (Jeremy Irvine) lives on a farm that’s struggling to make ends meet.  Albert forms a bond with a horse he names Joey but those pesky Germans decide to start a war and Joey is sold off to the cavalry unit of the British army, and is sent to the frontline.

‘War Horse’ is one of the most beautifully shot films I have ever seen and the scenery is magnificent.  The cinematography by Janusz Kaminski is breathtaking and my jaw was on the floor of the cinema for a majority of the film and is still sore now. 

The European setting has a fairytale feel and that theme is prominent throughout the film.  The setting has a magical feel which is put in stark contrast with the war which rips the beautiful landscapes apart.  Spielberg shows the battle of nature verses machine best displayed in a scene involving a cavalry of horses and German machine gunners, which if you know your history, dramatically changed the battlefront and how the war played out.

Spielberg still knows how to construct a thrilling action set piece and one of the films highlights is when a group of British soldiers attack the Germans while navigating the barren death-pit between the trenches.

The characters are all very naive, especially towards the war but it’s Spielberg’s commentary on Europe being a fantasy land.  Before going into battle, soldiers are talking about their new hats and drawing pictures of horses.  When in battle the reality of the situation hits and it’s clear that the times are changing.

The performances are mixed with Joey the horse stealing the show.  The human actors don’t fare very well with a few melodramatic performances.

John Williams score is great but does get a little overbearing at times almost threating to throttle you over the head with a violin if you don’t feel a smidgen of emotion.

The story is very episodic and a few of the subplots don’t contribute much to the overall story.  Trudging through these pitfalls does have its benefits though as the plot comes full circle in the finale and your tear ducts might get a swift kick in the crotch.

‘War Horse’ isn’t a triumphant return for Spielberg but even his weaker work is far better than most film directors working for a Hollywood studio food pellet.  The film has a lot of heart and it’s always good to have an old friend back.

3.5/5

‘War Horse’ opens in Australian cinemas 26 December 2011.

The Popcorn Junkie

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