Film: War Horse
Director: Steven Spielberg
Written by: Lee Hall and Richard Curtis
Starring: Jeremy Irvine, Emily Watson, Peter Mullan, David Thewlis, Niels Arestrup, Tom Hiddleston, Benedict Cumberbatch, Celine Buckens, David Kross.
Running time: 146 min.
As you may remember from this post, I lost a horse who was very dear to me and I would give literally anything to have her back. So right from the start, War Horse was going to be a film which I would love. Which is also quite a bad thing, since whilst watching I failed to look at the movie from a critical, 'the-movie-snob-that-I've-become' standpoint. Instead, I was left in tears more often than not. And these moments of extreme emotion weren't because of the really sad parts. In fact, I found myself in tears right at the beginning when Albert (Jeremy Irvine) was teaching Joey to respond to his whistle. This is because I remember exactly what that was like, to build up a bond with a horse that no-one could possibly ever break. And I miss it. I miss everything about having a horse to call my own, whether it be just to wrap my arms around it's neck or head, or have it rubs it's nuzzle up against my face. It may sound stupid to anyone who has never owned a horse in their life, but when you spent 15 years of your life with them and now you're left with nothing, you would understand why there's a huge void in my heart. That's why the story of Albert having his horse taken off him (in the worst possible way - I know exactly how it feels to arrive home and find that my horse isn't there, and it isn't pretty) resonated with me so much, and why I loved War Horse practically more than anyone else did.
The film isn't all about Albert trying to find Joey, though. We follow Joey through his huge journey through the horrors of World War I and the different people he meets as he, well, tries not to die. Joey is one heck of a horse, too. As I said to my mother, he had "Katie's colour, Misty's marking and Roger's socks", which just so happened to be three of my favourite horses. Alas, that doesn't really factor into why Joey is amazing. He somehow touches the lives of everyone he meets, whether it be a few soldiers, the Captain who takes him off Albert (played by Tom Hiddleston) or the young girl, Emilie (Celine Buckens) who finds Joey and his friend Topthorn abandoned. Before watching this movie I had read the original novel by Michael Morpurgo, which was told from the point of view of the horse. It would have been difficult to translate a lot of the soul that was put into Joey's heart-breaking narration to the screen, so I felt like something was lacking there, but Joey was portrayed adequately as an amazing horse, which was good enough for me. As far as book comparisons go, this film improved on the rather limited source material, which was around 170-ish pages, in large print, good enough for kids to read. The large majority of the people in the movie weren't in the book, but the movie did closely follow the book - as closely as it could. I've yet to see the stage show, apparently that is amazing.
Many people have called out this film to be pure 'Oscar-bait', which could be true. However, it could have been released at any time of the year and still have been a moving story of courage and friendship against all odds - an Oscar favourite theme, sure, but also a timeless theme. Rest assured, people, while this film has been nominated for six Oscars, I can't see it winning big on Oscar night. As epic as it may be, it is still extremely safe and believe it or not, the Oscars are slowly growing out of that (but not by that much). I do admit, it felt as if Steven Spielberg and his team were trying to hard to recreate the sort of epic that went out of fashion a few years back. Just look at (or listen to) John Williams' ridiculously OTT score. From the very beginning where there are a few aerial shots of the lush British lands, the song that accompanies it probably has every single instrument known to man in it. There was also the moment when Joey was running through bullets, bombs and wire, helplessly, and there is this corny 'adventure' type of song accompanying it. I would have preferred no music at all, and just to hear the bullets and other weapons going off which would have painted a much more horrible picture. If there was one thing I didn't like about the movie, it was that score - but I was detracted by the amount of tears pouring out of my eyes and the fact that my heart was with Joey to think about Williams trying to give me a good schooling on every instrument ever.
As I said, I struggled to see this film from a critical standpoint, so the performances did become the least of my worries. Everyone was good, but no-one was really given enough screen-time to be great. Jeremy Irvine, however, playing the human lead, was most excellent in his role. It would have been difficult for him, the debut actor and 'virgin horseman' that he was, to create such a relationship with several horses that looked fluent. He did a wonderful job of it, and I look forward to seeing what he has in store for the future. However, the film basically begins and ends with Joey and his incredible journey, and the lives he touches along the way. He represents every one of the horses that I've had come into my life, and unfortunately have left. I may sound obnoxious or like one of those 'horsey' people that many brush under the rug for being so nerdy, but there's a reason that people are like that. If you should ever have grown up around horses and have them slip through your fingers just like that, you'd know why something like this film would touch your heart more than anything. It almost makes me feel guilty for gravitating towards movies in what would be the final years of me being around horses - I should have enjoyed it more, otherwise I wouldn't be whining about it now.
For some, it may have been too safe. For others, it may have been too 'emotionally manipulative'. But for me, this is one of the most personal films I have ever seen. It isn't a masterpiece by any means, nor does it push any boundaries, or exist in the land of obscurity which we cinephiles are supposed to gravitate towards - it just exists in a place in my heart that too few films have ever got to before.
What I got:
Sorry if this review was immensely personal, hard-to-believe, not actually about the film, whatever. I'm not a film critic, just a blogger, and I can write what I please.