We all know that Spielberg can make heartwrenching stories for the masses with his eyes shut, and with War Horse he's found yet another story to keep audiences gently weeping in to their popcorn.
The story, based on the book and play by Michael Morpurgo, follows Albert Narracott (Irvine) whose farmer father impulsively buys a horse at auction to stop his landlord getting his hands on it. The problem is, Mr Narracott's impulse buy isn't a typical work horse. But Albert feels a bond with the animal straight away and says he'll set about getting Joey, as he's christened the horse, to work on the farm. Just as things start to go well for the family, World War I breaks out and Albert's father sells Joey to an army captain heading to France. And so Joey's time as a War Horse begins.
The story follows Joey's adventures on the continent with the army captain, two young German brothers, a young French girl and so on. This is one of my main problems with the film, it feels too episodic, you can almost tell where one chapter of Morpurgo's book ends and the next begins, it needs to flow more.
Acting wise, the cast all put in good turns, although Irvine felt a little wooden in places. I was surprised at how soon Cumberbatch and Hiddleston's story ended, I was expecting a lot more from both their characters (I haven't read the book or seen the play). Toby Kebbell also pops up as a soldier who helps Joey on the battlefield in what is the most heartbreaking scene of the entire film - even the hardest hearted viewer may find they have a little something in their eye at that point.
As you'd expect with Spielberg, the film is heartwarming, emotional and beautifully shot. He's able to bring a story that's been a book and play and make it cinematical (for the most part). There are shots here that are pure Spielberg - watch out for the way he uses a Windmill's sails in one pivotal scene, brilliantly done. It's no exaggeration to say the filmmakers have gone all out to make this an epic film - the final scene is as close as you'll get to Gone With The Wind outside of Tara. In my opinion, War Horse is probably the best live-action Spielberg film we've seen in a long time.