Steven Spielbergs latest offering Warhorse should be renamed Deadhorse.
Coming from the director whose past exploits with animals have resulted in film classics including Jaws and Jurassic Park, Warhorse is a misfire on Spielbergs part.
The negative points outweigh the positives in a film that is unbalanced and forced.
Starring Jeremy Irvine and Emily Watson, Warhorse is based on the 1982 book of the same name by author Michael Murpurgo. It tells the story of the relationship between Joey (the horse) and his owner Albert Narracott, played by Jeremy Irvine, during World War One.
Warhorse opens with the birth of Joey in idyllic Devonshire, England in the early 1900’s. We are shown some playful scenes as we watch Joey grow from a young foal into a fully grown adult horse.
Upon reaching maturity, Joey is seperated from his mother and taken to a local horse auction. It is here that a bidding war ensues between landlord Lyons (David Thewlis) and local farmer Ted (Peter Mullan) for Joey.
Ted wins the bid only to learn that he now does not have enough money to pay his rent.
Joey is introduced to Ted’s son, Albert (Jeremy Irvine), who realises his family will face eviction from their home unless they can come up with enough money to pay their rent.
Albert develops a strong bond with Joey. To raise money to pay their rent, they must plough their stoney field, plant seeds and harvest a crop. With no equipment to do this, the family decide to attatch a plough to Joey and have Joey plough the field.
In perhaps the best scene in Warhorse, we are shown Alberts faith in Joey as they together plough the field, much to the dismay of Alberts family and local onlookers.
With the announcement that England has gone to war with Germany, Joey is sold to the english army, thus seperating Albert and his beloved horse.
What ensues is the horses changing of hands between several owners across war torn Europe and Alberts determination to find and be reunited with his horse.
The biggest drawback of Warhorse is that the movie is not emotionally engaging. It feels as if Spielberg is trying to force an emotional response from the audience.
The horse changes hands too many times. Its interactions with its various owners are not given enough time to develop. Joeys interactions with humans feels compressed. In short, we are not given enough screen time to develop any sympathy with the characters Joey interracts with.
In contrast to this, the relationship between Joey and Albert, especially at the start of the film, is given ample time to breathe and flourish. As a result of this we feel a connection between the boy and his horse. If Warhorse were allowed time to develop like this, instead of being compressed and tight then it would be a classic.
In what is supposed to be a tear jerking moment, where Albert is reunited with Joey, we just don’t feel anything. It feels too emotionally forced.
While Warhorse has flaws, there are also some positive aspects as well.
Jeremy Irvine is compelling as young farm boy Albert. His stubborness and inner belief in Joey is what gives his character depth. As said, the ploughing scene is perhaps the scene that Warhorse will be remembered for.
The horse trainor also deserves recognition.
In one well choreographed scene, Joey is trapped in a dead end trench, surrounded by barb wire with a tank about to run over him. Joey simply charges at the tank and leaps over it, no special effects, no camera trickery, it is wonderful to watch.
The supporting cast are terrific, especially Michael Fassbender as Captain Nicholls.
Warhorse is not Steven Spielbergs finest hour. For a director of the calibre of Spielberg and for a story that has already been dramatised successfully on stage and in book form the movie is a let down. For fans who want to experience Warhorse, it might be a good idea to read the book or check out the theatre production instead of the film. Sadly, Warhorse the movie should only be viewed by diehard fans of the novel or stage production who want to see Joey the horse on the big screen.