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We're the lucky ones, you and me. Lucky since the day I met you.


War Horse
(2011)

Very much a mixed bag. Spielberg comes up trumps with a number of very good scenes that commendably suggest the horrors of war in a family film. But, as a whole, the storytelling is encumbered by typically Spielbergian bloatedness and a narrative that buckles under the weight of attempting to force itself into a more standard Hollywood format.

My understanding is that the book/play follows the horse throughout, and when this film is at its best it does exactly that. But it also feels the need to tag along after the horse's master, no doubt afraid that the audience is unable to get by without a central human protagonist. As a result, there's an undermining and simplification at times that would be more excusable if we were passing from vignette to vignette with only the gee-gee for company. More damagingly, the narrative cuts to what must be at least three years later at one point, which diminishes our investment in following the noble mare through thick and thin.

I wasn't overly concerned by the more treacly aspects as that's par for the course with Spielberg; the passing years haven't dinted his weakness in laying on the sentiment with a trowel. Talking of which, present and correct is John Williams' identikit swelling score; he's instantly recognisable but his work hasn't been anything to get excited about in 20 years. There are also some bizarre choices in terms of the cinematography; at times there's an artificial painterliness that just seems silly, and the decision to have bits of airborne fluff (be it dirt, dust or crop matter) adding a sense of beautification at times seems inappropriate (notably in scenes of the grimy carnage of war).

Cast-wise it's stuffed to the hilt with strong performances, although Jeremy Irvine's lead is something of an earnest cypher. The opening sections may be the most twee in some ways, the horse triumphing against odds on a Hovis farm. Even Peter Mullan and Emily Watson can't really make their roles any more than caricatures in this section. One of the best passages features Tom Hiddleston and Benedict Cumberhatch, as the horse has its first encounter with battle. This ends with possibly the best "Spielberg moment" in the film; a charge on a German encampment that tells us what has happened through the spectacle of riderless horses. Also, a passage featuring Nicholas Bro (the fatty chap from The Killing) touchingly concerned for the welfare of horses that are expected to survive for no more than a couple of weeks and a superb, if very clichéd, scene between Toby Kebbell and Hinerk Schonemann in No Man's Land.

***

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