War Horse

Posted: February 11, 2012 in Movie Reviews

My first initial reaction when I saw the preview for this film was “Eh, it looks pretty good.” Upon seeing that this movie was both directed by legend Steven Spielberg and composed by the marvelous John Williams, my interest increased tremendously. I mostly figured that this was going to be a Black Beauty-type film, but with Spielberg’s imaginative flair and Williams’ brilliant score. I am happy to say, though, that this film far exceeded my expectations.

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 Summary: (May contain spoilers)

When young Albert Narracott’s family comes into possession of a thoroughbred horse, he takes it upon himself to train it and turn the bronco into a working English farm horse. However, the task proves daunting as it becomes seemingly inevitable that this high-spirited creature will never be tamed, much less put behind a plow.

Nevertheless, Albert soon forms a deep bond with the horse, called Joey, and uses that relationship to eventually soften him up. But when World War I breaks out, Joey is sold to the British army to serve in the cavalry. Much to Albert’s utter dismay, the two friends are separated, and Joey is given to Captain Nicholls (played by Tom Hiddleston—Thor).

Joey soon sees his first action in France when the cavalry’s first mission is to ambush a German unit camp. To their utter ruin, however, they are met with modern Gatling machine guns, which overwhelm the cavalry and lay waste to them. Nicholls is killed and Joey is captured by the Germans and used to haul artillery. In a world where most horses last for a matter of months, Joey survives for over 3 years.

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 While the film’s ending may have been slightly predictable, everything else in-between certainly was not. This was not your typical Steven Spielberg movie—no aliens came and aided the Allies—War Horse was beautifully constructed and extremely well-written.

It was not until after I saw the movie that I learned it was based on a book. But I, nonetheless, was thinking throughout the film that it had the same structure and same basic plot theme as a well-written novel. This alone is tribute to Spielberg’s terrific movie-making abilities—certainly a step up from Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.

I knew beforehand that this was a war movie (as per the title) but I really had no idea how graphic some of the war scenes were going to be. I’m not talking about blood and gore—in fact there was little blood shown at all. I’m talking about how awful and appalling some of the war’s aspects were. WWI, just like every other war, was gruesome, and this movie was about 95% accurate on how terrible it was.

This movie spoke to me in ways that no other war movie has. And that’s saying a lot. Unlike Black Beauty, where the film’s message is “Horses are oppressed because they are made to pull carriages and are slapped with sticks”, War Horse  conveyed an entirely different tone by showing us what WWI was like from the horses’ perspective. There was no pandering to the faint of heart. War Horse showed you what war is like, for both man and beast.

Historically, this film depicts perfectly the change that came about during this time. Prior to WWI, horses had been a main staple of warfare in every war from the Peloponnesian War to the Civil War. The army with the largest cavalry was 10 times more likely to achieve victory. But that all changed with the new weaponry that came about in the early 20th century.

Horses were no match against machine guns, and soon became outdated. Armored vehicles and guns replaced the horse and the sword, and all honor was removed from warfare. WWI was the last war to be fought on horseback, and War Horse does a thorough job of portraying the dying cavalry brigade.

Please don’t let the “War” in “War Horse” scare you away from this film, though. The war scenes only accounted for about 1/4 of the movie. The rest of the film was quite beautiful, and  reminded me of Lassie—that is, the deep connection between man and animal.

There were a few incredible performances in this movie, most notably by the actor who played Albert, who I have a feeling has a fantastic career in acting ahead of him. Even if you’re not particularly fond of horse movies, even if you’ve had enough of war, I strongly suggest this movie. It will rouse your emotions in different ways than Lassie, Black Beauty, or Old Yeller  ever did.

9.5 stars

 

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