Steven Spielberg. Those two words should be enough to review this film in its entirety. We think of E.T, Schindler’s List, Jurassic Park, Saving Private Ryan and perhaps AI, Catch Me if You Can and War of the Worlds. Just looking at that small snippet of his work you could guess – without knowing anything about the story – that there’s a good chance his new film will be funny, exciting, family friendly, touching and almost certainly very good. Thankfully; Warhorse delivers.
The film charts the story of a horse, Joey, through WW1 and the various people it encounters along the way. The most impressive aspects of Spielberg’s latest are the little things. The comedy goose, the speech by an old fashioned captain (Benedict Cumberbatch) rallying his troops, the swelling of a John Williams theme as horse and owner are re-united and the wordless but touching finalé.
It’s amazing how much we connect with Joey the horse. Everyone is raving about Uggie the dog from The Artist, (understandably though, he is brilliant) but the horse is so integral to the film and really is great. When we see Joey in pain we gasp and sigh. It is surprising how much pathos we feel towards him, especially considering that we see human characters come and go along the way. In many ways, that’s one of the few faults of the film; the human characters flit in and out of the story a little too quickly for us to really get to know them, and therefore we’re a little apathetic in their case. Still, some of the emotional moments involving people are very cleverly done and the vast majority of performances are very well played. Some better than others, in particular Tom Hiddleston (he was Loki in last year’s Thor and F Scott Fitzgerald in Midnight in Paris) as Captain Nicholls captures the stiff upper lip in the face of danger of British officers in a dignified and nuanced performance. Unfortunately, Jeremy Irvine as Joey’s owner is the most bland character I’ve seen in a film in a long time, such a pity considering all the supporting cast, the writing, the direction and the horse are so good.
Basically, Warhorse is one of those divisive films that comes along every so often; you either laugh at the pomp and the sentimentality of it or are swept away by the grandeur and audacity of it. I was swept along, and loved it in spite of myself.