Stephen Spielberg’s old fashioned WW1 epic War Horse is at times thrilling and moving but too often falls victim to Spielberg’s cheesy filmmaking style.
Initially set in a John Ford approved scenic English valley, the film sees young Albert (Jeremy Irvine) the son of a turnip farmer dedicating himself to raising a thoroughbred horse named Joey. When the farm falters Joey is snatched by the evil Land lord Lyons (Naked and Harry Potter’s David Thewlis) and packed off to the blood-soaked trenches of the Somme.
The film becomes a bit like Saving Private Joey as Albert heads off to war in search of his beloved horse. Much of the film is a straight up war movie with graphic scenes of trench warfare although because the film hopes for a broad audience, these scenes aren’t as ferocious as those in Saving Private Ryan. Still, the film succeeds in conveying what a hideous meat grinder the trenches were in the First World War.
Through all this the film tracks Joey and Albert’s respective odysseys across France introducing us to a variety of characters, the most affecting of which is the young French girl Emilie who develops affection for Joey similar to Albert’s.
While War Horse is superbly shot and often powerful, Spielberg just can’t stop himself from throwing in cornball visual gags such as the quirky encounter between a British and a German soldier trying to free Joey from razor wire. Spielberg also indulges an over the top almost surreal Gone with the Wind look in some scenes which grates with the raw brutality of the war footage.
Performances from all concerned either two legged or four are fine, although the oddly named Benedict Cumberbatch who plays TV’s Sherlock Holmes is almost comical as the crazy-eyed, war-loving British commanding officer.
This film has much to offer lovers of old fashioned, big budget tear jerkers but more hardened cinema goes may cringe.
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