Believe it or not, I don’t have much to say about Steven Spielberg’s War Horse. I walked into the movie expecting to really hate this movie. All the trailers and the basic premise contained all the smaltzy elements that I generally hate in movies. But darn it, Spielberg got me with this sweet, weird tale about Joey, The Forrest Gump, of Horses.
Joey went from being a sweet little farm bread pony to becoming a stud farm horse to becoming a french resistance fighter to becoming a traitor horse working for the German army all during the course of a two hour movie. Every time someone came into contact with this horse they met a gruesome end. At some point in the middle of the movie I found myself screaming – “No, don’t touch Joey, Joey is Satan’s death carriage on four legs!” Joey’s handlers became Star Trek’s “Red Shirts.”
Spielberg’s latest features a huge cast of unknown British actors who all do a great job with the parts they are given, but ultimately they all become interchangeable and unrecognizable once World War I starts. Harry Potter’s David Thewlis is probably the most recognizable of cast member, he plays a wealthy land owner who wants to buy Joey but is outbid by one of his tenants Peter Mullan who gives Joey to his son Albert Narracott (Jeremy Irvine) who raises and trains Joey.
Spielberg seems to show very little interest in really establishing the human characters in this movie. It starts with Joey The Horse and keeps it about him throughout the entire thing.
The movie follows Joey’s adventures from pre-post WWI. I had a few reservations walking into this: the plot just seemed silly, how do you track a horse throughout this entire time period and why would I even care about this horse? Spielberg uses a hokey but affective gimmick of wrapping a colored flag around the Horse’s saddle so the audience will always know which horse is Joey. The flag was a gift from Albert’s father and represented a desire to return home.
Somehow I found myself caring about Joey’s plight and the movie does an amazing job of really showing us what Joey must be feeling and “thinking” during every moment. There is an amazing sequence where Joey befriends a black stallion and we watch as their friendship forms and the bond grows deeper throughout the movie. It was truly touching to watch. After awhile you don’t even realize Joey and this other horse are, you know – horses. I couldn’t tell how much of this was CGI vs. Actual “horse-acting.” If there was a way to nominate a horse for best Actor, Joey would get it. The Black Stallion would get my nod for best supporting actor. The most touching horse bromance I’ve seen all year.
The movie contains some nice Cinematography work by Janusz Kaminski, and of course John Williams has another great, sweeping score. Spielberg can’t help himself, there are some really hokey moments in the movie – especially towards the end and the ending is straight out of Gone with the Wind, I expected Joey to ride up at the end against that bright orange sunset and instead of saying “Frankly my dear I don’t give a damn,” give a horse like grin and say “See, I told you I’d be home.”
War Horse is based on a hit Broadway Show and award winning book by Michael Morpurgo.
Final Grade A
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