Steven Spielberg brings movie magic to the big screen yet again with his adaptation of the book War Horse by Michael Morpurgo.
One way to think of this film is as a modern-day – well, World War I-era – version of Homer’s The Odyssey, with war obstacles instead of mythical beasts. Joey/Odysseus, the horse, is just trying to find his way back home to Albert/Penelope, but to get there he first wanders through Europe/the Mediterranean Sea, coming into contact with various war scenarios/mythical creatures. Looking at it from that perspective, I enjoyed it even more since I was a big fan of The Odyssey. It’s an epic adventure with a war hero, except this time around he’s a horse, making it all the more touching.
Everything in this film was superbly well-done. Each of the actors and actresses held themselves to a high standard, presenting the audience with genuine, heartfelt emotion: despair that makes us cringe with worry, joy that makes us grin from ear to ear, and love that brings tears to our eyes. One standout performance comes from Jeremy Irvine, who portrays the lead character of Albert. His apparent connection with Joey is believable and warm, making their separation all the more upsetting and their eventual reunion incredibly satisfying.
Another great, albeit short, performance comes from Tom Hiddleston as Captain Nicholls, a man who resolves to look after a horse with as much love and care as was given by the boy he was taken from. Hiddleston, whether as Nicholls or Loki, has an uncanny likability that draws you into caring for him. Benedict Cumberbatch, another rising British star, also makes a brief appearance in the film as Major Stewart. This was the first time I’d ever seen Cumberbatch in anything; what strikes me as remarkable about him is that he seems to almost ooze authority with apparent ease. His stint as a major in the British army is impressive and powerful. Other notable appearances in the film are by Celine Buckens as Emilie, who is a perfect example of innocence, and Niels Arestrup as her grandfather, who delivers a brilliant monologue about how sometimes bravery is never looking down and always looking forward.
Spielberg’s talent for setting scenes in huge ways is very apparent here; the beauty of Europe as a backdrop is made exceptionally clear, contrasting deeply with the images of war and violence seen in the forefront. All of this makes the film feel large but in an intimate way, as if the war is simply the backdrop for the more personal relationship between a young man and his horse.
War Horse is a fantastic film that feels old-fashioned in a marvelous way. Spielberg has combined his natural talent for making dazzling films with an outstanding cast, a heartwarming story of friendship and loyalty, and an extremely beautiful film score by longtime Spielberg collaborator John Williams to make the film his best in years.
Rating: 4.5 (out of 5)
MPAA: PG-13 - for intense sequences of war violence