Thursday, January 26, 2012

Film Review of "War Horse"

War Horse

Nominated for six Academy Awards including Best Picture

War Horse succeeds at offering a compelling look at multiple facets of World War I. The movie begins when Albert (played by Jeremy Irvine) suddenly becomes the young owner of an untrained and unruly horse. The pair forms a tight bond as the stubborn horse named Joey helps his young trainer beat the odds and save his parents farm from financial ruin. Despite their victory, Britain begins to deploy for war with Germany, and Joey is effectively enlisted in the British army, acting as the battle horse for Captain Nicholls (Tom Hiddleston) and leaving Albert behind. Nicholls is only the first of many people that Joey touches as he traverses one of the most horrifying human conflicts in history. The vignettes are masterfully woven together, and despite jumping from person to person, it successfully balances Joey’s experience with the overarching effect the war is having on people from all walks of life. 

The marketing for the film might lead some moviegoers to think that War Horse is a mostly lighthearted and inspiring adventure suitable for young children but that would be a mistake. For casual audiences, this film may actually be one of the heavier films of the year, as the World War seemingly destroys everything in its wake (soldiers, innocents, and animals alike) but the heavy tone and heart-wrenching moments don’t detract from the overall success of the film. The unrelenting nature of the film is almost certainly intentional and helps ground audiences in the horrors of World War I. However, there’s no doubt that each of the vignettes can be exceptionally draining, especially because the terrible deeds of man far outweigh any moments of lightheartedness. Spielberg does manage to instill a number of the characters with enjoyable and lively personalities; however, even the most hopeful and cheerful of these personalities are ultimately overrun by the relentless war machine. As a result, the film can at times come across as a continuous descent into increasingly horrifying human experiences. 

That’s not to say that there aren’t a number of lighthearted moments, mainly due to the success of the equine actors coupled with some inspired performances from their human counterparts. Joey exudes a tremendous amount of personality and provides believable reactions to the various scenarios portrayed onscreen. Spielberg makes use of the horses to great effect, showcasing the majesty and beauty of the animals, while successfully portraying the horrors that befell them. Jeremy Irvine is competent in the lead role as Albert, and there’s no doubt the actor was challenged selling the emotional bond between his character and Joey. Once the film gets rolling it moves at a brisk pace. War Horse offers a number of memorable moments both tragic and profound but even the most inspiring moments are wrought with the horror of the war. But with that said, War Horse is a compelling film with heart and is one of the best movies of the year.

Run-time - 1 hour 26 minutes
Director - Steven Speilberg
Touchstone Picures
Cast - Jeremy Irvine, Benedict Cumberbatch, David Kross, David Thewlis, Emily Watson, Niels Arestrup, Peter Mullan, Toby Kebbell, Tom Hiddleston

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