Sunday, December 18, 2011

“War Horse” – Movie Review

This weekend in my movie class, we saw the final bonus screening of the Fall Semester --  Steven Spielberg's “War Horse”, featuring a bunch of actors probably unfamiliar to most of us, except for Emily Watson.

When a young man’s pet colt is forced into war, will the early bond formed between the two remain intact or will life’s vicissitudes create an implacable division?

In the years before The Great War, Ted, a farmer from an agrarian community in England, proudly purchases a horse at an auction and brings him home to his wife Rose (Watson) and teenage son Albert.  Although Albert bonds with the horse, whom he names Joey, it soon becomes evident that it will not suit the family’s needs as the horse is too small to plow on a farm and the family will no longer be able to keep its land.  When war is imminent, Ted finds it in the best interests of his family to sell Joey to the British Army’s cavalry. 
Separated by war due to the economy of the time, Albert vows to someday find Joey; understanding the union between the two, the captain in the British Army to whom Joey is ultimately sold vows to Albert that if possible, he will return Joey to him upon the war’s end.  Sadly, this never occurs because the captain is killed in battle with the German army.  At its end, the Germans take Joey for their own use; two young soldiers see the horse as a thoroughbred and eventually escape with him in France – but when they are caught and executed for desertion during wartime, Joey becomes the possession of a French farmer and his granddaughter.  Later, the Germans recapture Joey and work him hard to move heavy artillery. 
Escaping from the German army, Joey winds up in a precarious situation when he finds himself stuck in some barbed wire during a particularly dangerous combat between the Germans and the Brits.  After some negotiation between the two sides, he is freed and winds up in the hands of the British army.  Wounded and seemingly left for dead, the army physician chooses to put Joey out of his misery – but by this time, Albert has grown up enough to join the army and discovers Joey is alive despite the perils through which he has been put.  But will Albert and Joey be reunited – and if so, can they both survive the war and return home?

“War Horse” will doubtless go down as one of Spielberg’s best, quite possibly a classic.  Currently, “War Horse” is appearing as a stage play on Broadway here in New York City.  However, according to our instructor, this movie is based on the novel on which the play is based, rather than the film being based on the stage play itself.  This is of some significance because the book – again, given what I’ve been told by our instructor because I haven’t read the source material – has a different structure and ending from the film.  Nevertheless, “War Horse” is scheduled to open on Christmas Day and I highly recommend you see this film, especially if you plan on spending time with family this holiday. 
Having said all of that, I would further suggest that if you do intend on taking children, maybe they should not be too young.  While on the surface this does seem to be a story of “a boy and his horse”, there is sufficiently realistic and graphic coverage of the violence and carnage of World War I. So depending on the sensibilities of your child – and the degree of violence you wish to allow him or her to experience vicariously – this may or may not be an appropriate movie to see when it opens on Christmas.  Ultimately, that’s a decision you’ll have to make for yourself – nevertheless, it is certainly a must-see film and one which will definitely generate a great deal of deep and interesting conversation afterwards. 
Without question, this movie will be of great interest to not only animal lovers and history buffs, but also to a wider audience of families as well – the last of which, I would expect, is its target audience, especially given when it is scheduled to open.  Make no mistake, this film is accompanied by the usual psychological toying that you might expect from a Spielberg movie, but due in large part to his craftsmanship as a filmmaker, it is nevertheless likely that you will fall under its spell and ignore much of the expected manipulation that one might anticipate in “War Horse”.  Regardless, both Spielberg’s direction and John Williams’ score will captivate viewers from the very first shot. 

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