Only director Steven Spielberg could make a film epic about a horse work this well. Known for delivering a level of sentimentality (sometimes excessively) in nearly all his films, that earnestness and purity help create just the right tone for a film about bravery, hope and unbreakable bonds.
The story starts with the birth and sale of Joey, a young horse that displays a lot spirit to its buyer, a drunken farmer named Ted Narracott (Peter Mullan). But Joey isn’t the kind of workhorse that Ted needs to plow his fields, so he decides to cut his losses by shooting him. But he’s stopped at the last minute by his son Albert (Jeremy Irvine), who vows to raise and train Joey properly. Albert and Joey undoubtedly form a bond, but as soon as they do, Joey’s sold to the British Army, as they are about to enter World War I. From there, Joey changes hands from a British officer to a young French girl to the German army. In the meantime, Albert has joined the British Army himself, hoping to one day reunite with his horse.
Joey is obviously the focus of the film, and Spielberg succeeds in making us believe that every person Joey comes across will immediately fall in love with him. He’s aided by longtime musical collaborator John Williams, whose score creates the right mood for each scene. I’ve never been a fan of horse movies, but I couldn’t help be sucked in by Joey’s strength and loyalty.
Of course Spielberg is also known for his technical mastery, and “War Horse” is indeed as much a success technically as it is emotionally. With its swooping scenery and saturated backdrops, “War Horse” looks exactly like those old movies proudly announced they were filmed in Technicolor. Fans of classics such as “Gone with the Wind” and “The Wizard of Oz” will immediately recognize and appreciate the cinematography. It’s a brave choice by Spielberg to present a modern-era film this way, but it definitely works.
“War Horse” is a cinematic success that’s a throwback to an older era of film, but with modern tools. But while it’s being marketed as a family film, there are some fairly intense battle scenes that may not be appropriate for young ones.
“War Horse,” 146 minutes, is Rated PG-13 and opens in theaters on Christmas Day.