Director Steven Speilberg has been a busy, busy boy. In a ten day period he has two movies coming out at the same time. Whoa! But he's always been someone to give us a one-two punch. He's the text book example of "one for the studio, one for yourself." We got Jurassic Park and Schindler's List in the same year. Then we got The Lost World and Amistad four years later. And let's not forget the year of War of the Worlds and the incredibly underrated Munich. Now, just in time for Christmas, we have The Adventures of TinTin (his first animated feature film) and War Horse. Although this time it's hard to tell which was for him and which was for the studio.
War Horse is based on a novel, which also inspired an award-winning play. It follows a horse named Joey from his birth to his friendship with his human, Albert, played here by newcomer Jeremy Irvine. Joey gets drafted into World War I by the British Army and Albert has a hard time dealing with the loss of his best friend, so he enlists to try to find him again. However, the film isn't about Albert (thank God), it's about Joey.
Through the war, Joey gets passed through the hands of several people including a little girl in France and a German soldier as well. All the adventures that Joey has flow together perfectly and feels as if you're watching a collection of short stories. The welcomed effect of the script makes the two and a half hours of War Horse go by quickly and never feel bogged down. Although this backfires a bit making you forget Albert and how much he pines away for Joey.
Speilberg has been making films for 37 years and I can say with very little doubt in my mind that War Horse is one of his finest shot films. He used his loyal Cinematographer Janusz Kaminski again, who deserves an Oscar for some of the finest work in his career as well. It's true that he did Saving Private Ryan, but it's not just the war footage in this that gives a movie fan chills. The sweeping countryside, the gorgeous sunsets, the fluidity of the camera moving along with scores fo galloping horses is the stuff that makes the hair on your arms stand up.
War Horse is a near perfect film; and that's the problem with it. It's almost as if Speilberg, in his veteran mind, followed a perfect recipe for a Best Picture film. Is it a period piece with fantastic costumes? Yup. Does it shamelessly tug at your heartstrings? Check. Are there comedic moments in just the right places? Oh yeah. Is there an animal or person with a physical ailment overcoming adversity? You bet. How about a scene depicting war and how it's hell? Absolutely. I could go on and on like this. It's great but almost eye-rolling-ly great. It's fantastically entertaining but it's not art. It reminded me a little of Forrest Gump, which was a great film and so much fun to watch but it was Oscar bait just like War Horse is.
I won't give anything away about the ending of the film but it does have to be said that it's a film that everyone can enjoy. I know some people, my wife included, that considered not seeing War Horse at all due to not being able to take the death of animals well. Fear not! It's a movie almost everyone can enjoy together.
War Horsewill be nominated for Best Picture. That much I know is true. It has to be. Partly because it is one of the best films of the year, but also because it followed all the rules and that is the reward. To a casual film fan it's an easy pill to swallow and a no-brainer to be in most people's favorites of the year. To a more hardened, cynical movie-goer it is pandering, cliche and easy. Me? I fall somewhere in the between. War Horse (Rated PG-13)
Gavin Grade: A-