Given his accepted status as the father of the modern day blockbuster, combined with the not inconsiderable title of the most commercially successful filmmaker in the history of the medium, Steven Spielberg is perhaps surprisingly bland as a conversation starter. The uncontested master of the technically brilliant crowdpleaser, Spielberg’s body of work, though celebrated, rarely invites the kind of penetrating analysis and spirited debate you associate with past masters, the likes of Kubrick, or the man’s contemporaries, the likes of James Cameron, or Sir Ridley Scott.
As something of a cinematic Monet – consistently churning out lush, heart-swelling, but rarely provocative imagery – Spielberg is right at home with this adaptation of Michael Murpurgo’s celebrated children’s story-turned-acclaimed stage play. A shamelessly sentimental story of the bond between boy and beast, abruptly severed by the savagery of the First World War, the rolling hills of Devon and the verdant, war-torn French countryside, are the ideal playground for a director so perfectly adept at manipulating how you feel that he often doesn’t even try to make you think.
While Jeremy Irvine gets top billing as the local yokel, Albert Narracott, the horse, as you may have heard, is really the star. Bought by Albert’s drunk dad as a point of obstinate pride, the horse is soon pressed into service by the British empire, to serve a generation of men naively marching off to war for king and country, having never heard of this newfangled invention – the machine gun. From there Warhorse is a veritable carousel of resolute spirit in the face of the most overwhelming, senseless destruction.
Sticking largely with the Horse’s point of view, we drop in on the Bally-ho British Captain who buys him, the German soldier who comes to be his caretaker, the young French girl and her ailing Grandfather who stumble upon him accidentally – all perfectly decent folk, struggling to make sense of a continent tearing itself apart, that the director never cares to illuminate beyond that. In fact, so profound is the impact on all who encounter him – even while 9,000,000 people are killed all around him - that by the time he becomes the focus of an impromptu truce in No Man’s Land, he is a mere box of chocolates away from being a four-legged Forest Gump.
That’s not to say that it isn’t affecting, because it clearly is. But despite its truly harrowing depictions of the utter futility of trench warfare – which is as close to physically sickening as anything Fincher has ever dreamt up – nothing ever truly lingers in the mind. Lavishly crafted, and gorgeous to look at, War Horse is undoubtedly destined for Holiday TV greatness. But, true to that, audiences will likely be more concerned with what to eat afterwards than being hungry to dissect the finer points of the movie they have just seen.
Danielle Panabaker's Top Pop Picks
"I'm really into the Avett Brothers as of late."
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