A boy and his horse are at the center of this Steven Spielberg family drama, adapted from the Tony winning stage play, which was an adaptation of a children’s book. It is a typical Spielberg film, tugging on your heartstrings to the emotive strains of John Williams. Set in the beautiful English countryside, a strapping young lad, Albert, witnesses the birth of an amazing horse and watches as he matures into a gorgeous thoroughbred. Then in a stroke of luck, when he comes up for sale, Albert’s father is crazy enough to buy him, instead of a plough horse, which is what they really need. But unfortunately, World War One soon separates the young man from his beloved steed named Joey, and the film follows this incredible animal’s odyssey through the war and finally (and miraculously) back to his favorite human.

As the War breaks out, Albert’s father is forced by circumstances beyond his control to sell Joey to a cavalry officer to use in battle, and from there the horse goes through a series of owners, across battles, from the British to the German side and back again with a sojourn in a little girl’s care. Where we have seen a war through the eyes of many human’s over the years, here it is seen through an equine lens. The film is rated PG-13 for its realistic depiction of the war, and it is horrific. I am sure that many people have no idea how brutal the First World War actually was. And there is something of the same feeling in many of the scenes as in Saving Private Ryan, that brothers in arms camaraderie kind of thing– total carnage beautifully captured by cinematographic genius Janusz Kaminski.

Everywhere the horse goes, he finds a person who recognizes his greatness. There are lots of those triumph of the spirit moments. Joey is the fastest, the most beautiful, smartest, loyalest, etc. And he makes an equine friend early on in the war that stays with him through his many tribulations. Then mid-way through, Albert joins the army and you just know that he and Joey will end up somehow coming together one way or another, because it is a Spielberg film after all, and there just has to be a happy ending.

War Horse is designed to be a total crowd-pleasing, tear-jerker movie — good for the family (not the little ones) or a date — though I didn’t cry as much as I expected. Spielberg can be a little too sappy at times for my taste (especially that ending Steven!) Unfortunately, most of the characters are not all that well-drawn, and the horse, which should have a big personality, really doesn’t. He is just beautiful and brave. And it is a bit long (146 min). Ultimately, it is a throwback to the good old fashioned Disney family film with fairly generic salt of the earth characters. It does have a decent though mostly low-key cast including Emily Watson (Breaking the Waves), David Thewlis (Naked), Niels Arestrup (A Prophet), and Tom Hiddleston (Midnight in Paris). Bonus: My nephew tells me the lead actor who plays Albert (Jeremy Irvine) looks just like a young Tom Brady (as if I knew who that was.)

3 thoughts on “War Horse”
  1. It is not a mystery story. As with most movies these days, the previews tells you everything. And unlike films with plot twists, I don’t think knowing ahead of time diminishes this story in the least.

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