Some are criticizing Steven Spielberg’s epic film, ‘War Horse’ for being too sentimental. That is precisely why I like the film. Spielberg is a master at tugging at our heartstrings. This film pays homage to classics such as ‘The Black Stallion’ and ‘Gone with the Wind.’ I’ll take it a step further. This film reminded me of the epic Disney films from an earlier time such as ‘Old Yeller’ and ‘The Incredible Journey.’ If you’re looking for a wholesome, family film, look no further, ‘War Horse’ fits the bill. Fair warning, you may want to bring some Kleenex with you to the theatre.
The story of ‘War Horse’ first started as a children’s book and then was a hit on Broadway and London stages. It’s a simple tale of friendship between a boy, Albert (Jeremy Irvine) and his horse, Joey. Before digging into the plot, I have to say this horse is a real beauty. Not only is Joey intelligent, he has a distinct personality. You can’t help but feel empathy for this majestic stallion and the incredible journey he takes us on throughout the film.
The story begins with Joey being born in the picturesque countryside of England. At an auction, we meet Ted (Peter Mullan), a scruffy but kind drunk who is in the market for a horse to plow his field. For some reason, Joey catches his eye and he finds himself outbidding his snooty landlord (David Thewlis) for the colt. When he brings the horse home, his wife (Emily Watson) is not pleased. Their son, Albert, forms an immediate bond with the horse and promises his mother that he can train Joey to plow the land and save the farm. Without giving anything away, the scene with Joey and Albert plowing the rocky plot of land is powerful.
With World War I looming in the distance, and Mother Nature destroying Ted’s turnip crop, he is forced to sell Joey to a Captain Nichols (Tom Hiddleston). Nichols assures Albert that he will take good care of Joey and to think of it as a ‘lease’ and that he will do his best to return Joey to him after the war. We, the audience, give a sigh of relief that at least Joey is being handed over to a man that has compassion for horses. The scene is still sad but this begins Joey’s epic journey through the war and the lives that he touches along the way.
I can’t think of any other director that can film battlefield scenes like Spielberg. With films like ‘Saving Private Ryan’ and ‘Schindler’s List’ to his credit, ‘War Horse’ gives us an authentic glimpse of trench warfare during World War I. I also can’t even fathom how difficult it must have been for horses to endure the loud noises of the battlefield. You feel bad for Joey but he luckily meets horse lovers that understand he is not a typical horse. Joey gets a nice breather from war when he is taken in by a French jelly-maker (Niels Arestrup) and his granddaughter, Emilie (Celine Buckens).
As a film buff, this has been a tremendous year for filmmakers paying homage to the cinema. Martin Scorsese celebrates the birth of cinema in his wonderful film, ‘Hugo.’ Michel Hazanavicius pays tribute to silent films in his highly acclaimed movie, ‘The Artist.’ And now, we are treated to Steven Spielberg paying homage to the romantic Hollywood epic. What a great year for film!
‘War Horse’ is now playing at Edwards Boise Stadium 22, Edwards Boise Downtown Stadium 9, and Majestic Cinemas, Meridian.