War Horse (2011)
Saw War Horse today, a few days prior to the nationwide release and a day after the premiere. There had been quite the kerfuffle about Steven Spielberg opting to make this novel/stage play into a silver screen diamond, but the devout literati amongst the audience need not have worried.
Sporting a Gone With The Wind hue and an attention to detail, time and scale that puts this reviewer in mind of Schindler's List, Spielberg has played an absolute blinder here. Easily as good as the hype that came before it (which is a rare feat these days) the movie grabs the viewer right from the outset and refuses to let go until it has finished with them, some two and half hours later.
We are first introduced to the eponymous War Horse, Joey, just after his birth, the very first time he gets to his feet. It is from here that the connection with the audience is made. I am not normally a fan of horse related films, even baulking at Secretariat upon release, believing that you can't get too much acting out of a horse and they are nowhere near as endearing as say... a smart collie, for example. And whilst the 'acting' from the equine cast is not great, it is good enough to not appear cliched.
Holding the fort in said acting department is Jeremy Irvine in the compromised form of Albert Narracott, a put upon farmer's son who raises Joey from young stallion to working farm horse after his father foolishly opts to buy him instead of a proper working horse for at least three times what he should have paid for him. At the time, his father sees something special in the horse, but it is a notion that doesn't last for long.
And neither does the fleeting storyline, never dwelling too long in one place, but following Joey's travels as he is sold initially to the cavalry in pursuit of victory for the British in the closing stages of World War I. Joey quickly becomes the chosen steed for one Captain Nicholls, who promises Albert that he will look after Joey as if he was his own, and then return the horse to Albert when his job is done.
Circumstances conspire to make this impossible and Joey finds another, less caring owner, before being briefly ridden out of the war on the back of a German deserter, ending up ownerless on a French farm near the front. Taken in by the daughter, it seems all would be good once more until an unfortunate ride finds Joey back in the hands of the Germans he had only just escaped from.
Yet one more escape leads to a mad dash through no man's land and finally..well, I won't spoil the 'finally' for you. Suffice to say, Spielberg prefers a certain type of ending and you get that type of ending here.
The cinematography is astounding with superb attention to detail, the acting is top notch by all of the human cast members with particular mentions going to farmer's wife Emily Watson and David Thewlis as the lofty landowner (Lyons) that threatens to kick the family off the farm if they can't make the rent.
A superb family film that should rightly be seen in the top ten films up for possible success at the Oscars in February. It will have some fierce competition in the form of The Help and Moneyball to name but two, but this is top class storytelling from Spielberg and it suggests that after a decidedly average year or two with some iffy Executive Producer efforts, he is back to where he is most effective; directing his own projects.