Director: Steven Spielberg
Writers: Richard Curtis, Lee Hall, Michael Morpurgo
Cast: Jeremy Irvine, Peter Mullan, Emily Watson, Niels Arestrup, David Thewlis, Tom Hiddleston, Benedict Cumberbatch, Celine Buckens, Toby Kebbell, Patrick Kennedy, Leonhard Carow, David Kross, Matt Milne, Robert Emms, Eddie Marsan, Nicolas Bro, Rainer Bock, Hinnerk Schönemann, Gary Lydon, Liam Cunningham, Geoff Bell, Sebastian Hülk
Synopsis: Young Albert enlists to service in WWI after his beloved horse, Joey, is sold to the cavalry. Albert's hopeful journey takes him out of England and across Europe as the war rages on.
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of war violence
Making the magic of "War Horse" on Broadway
War Horse at the 2011 Tony Awards
The Emotional Story about a boy and his horse comes to the big screen
I'm sure people have seen many variations of this kind of story before. A boy and his dog, horse, or whatever go through some epic emotional journey; which plays with the emotions of the audience. Yes, I'm sure we all have before. However, what makes "War Horse" different from any other boy and his pet scenario is that it actually has a story to tell, and it doesn't settle for too many cheap Hollywood cliches like most films would. Don't get me wrong, I don't mind when films use the emotion factor to gain the admiration of it's audience, but most of today's films use it to cover up how tragically mediocre it really is. Such films that are guilty of this are such movies like "Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked", "Free Willy", "Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 1", and others. Not that I'm comparing "War Horse" to any of those movies, as that would be absurd. No, I'm merely trying to prove a point here.
The simple reality is that most of today's Hollywood films usually tend to use the emotion factor to disguise how poorly constructed the overall movie truly is; hence fooling the audience into believing what they believe is a masterpiece, when in reality, it's nothing more than a bad film based on emotional cliches and stereotypes. This is also why I normally try not to allow the emotional factor of any movie bother me, or affect me in anyway, as I wouldn't want a bad movie like Tim Allen's "Santa Clause", to trick me into believing it's actually good.
However, that's not to say that I'm completely heartless when it comes to movies, as I'd by lying if there wasn't a few that got to me emotionally as well. Unfortunately, those films are rare these days, but when I do come across these few rare gems, it makes the experience all that much sweeter. Such films that come to mind are often those like "Fantasia", "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs", "Beauty and the Beast", "Castaway", "Forrest Gump" and "Boy in the Striped Pajamas", to name a few. In terms of narrative movies, I tend to love films that use the emotional factor to convey a either a deeply engaging story arc, and/or possibly enhance the struggle of an already great character driven movie. It's when the emotional factor of a film is applied this way, we truly get something special in a movie; which not only touches the hearts of most people, but it also touches even the toughest of cynical people out there like myself.
Needless to say, "War Horse" is certainly one of those rare diamonds in the rough that not only has a deep story to tell, but it uses the emotional factor to enhance it's already great character driven plot as well. In fact, this is arguably one of the most touching films that I've ever seen since "Boy in the Striped Pajamas." Not only is the story genuinely interesting and engaging, but it has a great character driven narrative as well. Sure, some of the characters are a bit one dimensional like the greedy landlord, but they still fit in perfectly with the type of story this film presents.
Based off the popular novel, "War Horse" by Michael Morpurgo, and later adapted into a play that has not only gone on to win various achievements at the "Tony Awards", but the groundbreaking puppetry that was used in the play was nothing short of revolutionary. However, unlike the play, the horse in this movie isn't a product of ingenuous puppetry work. No, it's a real horse this time, as Steven Spielberg was quite adamant about the refusal of using the predictable CGI methods. And, I must say for what Steven Spielberg was going for, he really pulls it off just nicely.
Spielberg and his writers create a beautiful story that makes the viewer feel a tremendous amount of empathy for the horse, Joey; not an easy feat by any means considering that he can't talk, and we have no way to know exactly what the horse is thinking. However, as the story plays out through Joey's perspective, we can't help but feel his pain anyway, as "War Horse" takes us on an epic emotional journey that'll touch the heart of it's audience.
As the story starts off, Joey is born like any other horse. He's sold at auction, as a poor farmer named Ted Naracott uses the last bit of his savings to buy the horse; in spite of his friends' protests. However, he refuses to listen, and ends up bringing him home to meet his family. As one would expect, the wife is p***ed off that he spent so much on the horse, but their son immediately takes a liking to the creature. From here, the farmer's son, Albert (Jeremy Irvine), raises the horse, and teaches him various tricks and such. Although the movie starts off as a simple boy and his pet story, where the two bond and connect. They form a relationship, which is designed to pull at the emotional strings of the audience. No real surprise there, as we know this would happen based on the trailers alone. However, it's what happens after they form this bond that makes the film truly worth watching.
As Albert raises Joey, it doesn't take long before Ted becomes financially in debt, due to spending most his savings into the horse in the first place. Sure, they try to use the horse to plow a field to grow crops to get themselves out of debt. And, it was a rather touching scene to watch, as the atmosphere and editing of the film was really well done in this scene. Not only did it shift between showing the struggle of Joey and Albert plowing a field that seemed next to impossible to plow through, but we also see various reactions from the side characters like the parents and the landlord; which only makes the drama of the scene that much more intense. Unfortunately, their efforts were vain though, as the crops they plant in that field die anyway, due to a circumstantial act of nature itself. With no other options left, Ted is forced to sell the horse to the British Army during "World War I."
From here, we see the rest of the film play out through Joey's eyes, as he goes on to become a war horse in "World War I." Witnessing various tragedies, as he somehow finds himself in an epic journey that takes him not only through the battlefields with the British, but he also endures the hardships of the German side as well. Along the way, Joey encounters various friends, and even gets temporarily adopted by a little girl and her grandfather. Unfortunately, that luxury is short lived, as Joey somehow finds himself confiscated by the military again for the German armies, as we see Joey almost kill himself trying to haul in heavy machinery for the military. Although we don't know what Joey is thinking at all, the audience can't help but feel sorry for the poor creature.
In fact, there's even moments that we forget that Joey is a horse at all, as he acts in such ways that most humans would in dire situations. For instance, when Joey sees how injured his black stallion friend's legs are, he immediately trots in front of her to encourage the German soldiers to use him instead to haul the heavy artillery, as he tries to protect his friend. It's touching scenes like this that not only allow the audience to suspend their dis-beliefs in the name of cinematic fun, but it also allows us to sympathize immensely with Joey's plight. Forcing it's audience to feel the fear and emotions that this poor creature endures, as he races across Europe encountering various adventures.
However, that's not to say this is a perfect film by any means. As I mentioned earlier, there are a few characters that are one dimensional like the landlord, and there's a pointless scene where Albert tries to impress a girl while riding Joey, while racing his landlord's son when he's driving in his car with said girl. In a later scene, he asks about this girl during the war, but it's never brought up again. Granted, I never seen the play before, or read the book, so maybe there's a possibility that this girl did have some role to play. But, in context to this film's continuity alone, it just becomes a pointless subplot that never goes anywhere.
In the end, I can't possibly say this is the best film that I've seen from last year, but it's definitely one of the best emotional stories out there. Not only is the story genuinely engaging, but it's arguably one of the rare emotional films that truly deserves it's accolades and hype. A must see for any movie fan at a rating of three and a half out of four.