By Gary Murray
Starring Jeremy Irvine, Emily Watson and David Thewlis
Written by Lee Hall and Richard Curtis
Directed by Steven Spielberg
Running time 146 min
MPAA Rating PG-13
Selig Film Rating FULL PRICE
Steven Spielberg is the greatest film director of all time. Over the decades, he has given the world some of the most impressive films to grace the silver screen. E.T., Jaws. Jurassic Park, Shindler’s List and Saving Private Ryan just scratch the surface of his works that are a part of the popular culture. He is a one-man international billion dollar industry that still has artistic merit. His latest is yet another classic—War Horse.
The story starts in the days before the Great War. Young Albert (Jeremy Irvine) works the land with his parents. Dad (Peter Mullan) goes to a local auction to buy a sturdy plow horse and gets involved in a bidding war for the spirited young colt. Mom (Emily Watson) is disappointed in her husband that he would buy an animal that has almost no worth on the farm.
Albert names the horse Joey and begins training him. It becomes obvious that this horse has some inner quality. Eventually he takes to the plow and shows everybody in the small village that a determined animal and a determined young man can accomplish great deeds.
Soon, war breaks out and everyone must sacrifice. Joey is sold and drafted into the war to ride with the British charge against the Hun horde. We are at the beginning of WWI and the horse is part of the effort to defeat the Germans.
The film becomes a bit episodic as our War Horse befriends another steed. They get lost in different adventures and eventually become part of a farm with a young woman who loves the animals. This leads to capture by the Huns and our horse taken to the trenches.
In one of the most impressive set pieces of the work, two soldiers work together to free the animal from almost certain death. Every obstacle faced by this brave animal becomes just another chapter to his majestic story arc.
War Horse is based on a play done with a puppet. But, the important aspects of the work are the human interactions with the animal. Through equine eyes, we are exposed to the horrors of this ‘modern’ war. Much like All Quite on the Western Front, this film shows the brutality of mechanized combat. Spielberg captures the horror of trench warfare in a way seldom seen on the silver screen.
The film is shot in an epic fashion so much so that it looks like Gone with the Wind in more than a few instances. There is this stately sweep with War Horse one has not seen in decades. It is grand film making on a magnificent scale, pushing every cinematic button with a deft touch.
In so many ways, it could be seen as a companion piece to Saving Private Ryan. Both show the bitter face of war and the eventful hope that man can rise above its differences. There is a beauty to this violent film.
Emily Watson delivers an Oscar worthy performance in War Horse. She is our eyes and ears of reason in this unreasonable world. With a single glance she conveys hopeful emotions. This is not a flashy performance but one of degreed subtlety.
At the risk of becoming a broken record, War Horse is another candidate in the Best Film of 2011 race. It has a classic Old Hollywood feel yet still draws modern human emotions into the mix. It is another proof that Mr. Spielberg is our greatest storyteller.