DIR: Steven Spielberg • WRI: Lee Hall, Richard Curtis • PRO: Kathleen Kennedy, Steven Spielberg • DOP: Janusz Kaminski • ED: Michael Kahn • DES: Rick Carter • Cast: Jeremy Irvine, Emily Watson

His first live-action movie since the much-derided Indiana Jones & The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull, Spielberg returns with what feels like yet another Best Of Spielberg Compilation, resting on his ability to film schmaltz against an epic background like no other. After dipping his toes in the new waters of 3D, mo-cap and animation with Tintin just a few months ago, it’s disappointing that Spielberg hasn’t brought any of that hunger for experimentation to this project. But still, Spielberg on his worst day is better than what 99% of directors could ever hope to achieve on their best.

Based on the 1982 children’s book, and then the 2007 stage hit, War Horse tells the story of Joey, the horse owned by Albert (Jeremy Irvine), and their friendship through the trials of potential poverty and then the tribulations of Joey getting sold to the army and having to survive World War I. The film follows Joey through his list of different owners (an English Staff Sergeant, a French girl, a German foot-soldier, etc.), and cuts back occasionally to Albert on his farm to remind us that Albert still misses Joey. Like, a lot.

The first 20 minutes or so features some of the most mawkish, cheesiest moments in modern cinema, and is quite difficult to endure. But once Joey heads off to war, the film finds it’s firm footing, and the memorable moments come quick and fast, but still interspersed with the odd scene of schmaltz (at one point it seems the entire of World War I comes to a halt just so everyone can help Joey out of a fence he’s stuck in).

A who’s who of great British actors (Peter Mullan, Emily Watson, David Thewlis, Benedict Cumberbatch, Toby Kebbell, Eddie Marsan) all do well with what they’re given, which more often than not isn’t very much, and lead actor Irvine is fine, if a bit too Abercrombie & Fitch looking for the part. But this movie is owned by Joey The Horse. That magnificent animal will steal, and then break, your heart. You have been warned.

Rory Cashin

Rated 12A (see IFCO website for details)
War Horse is released on 13th January 2012


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