WAR HORSE (2011)


 WAR HORSE (2011) 1

Director: Steven Spielberg
Writers: Lee Hall and Richard Curtis
Cast: Emily Watson, Tom Hiddleston, David Thewlis and Jeremy Irvine
Studio: Dreamworks/Touchstone

War Horse is based on the children’s book and play of the same name. It is about a boy who’s father, on a whim, buys a horse for his son that he knows will never be what is needed for the farm work it is purchased for. The boy forms an incredible bond with the horse. The first forty five minutes of the film is spent establishing the relationship between boy and horse. This part of the film is rather slow, but is necessary to establishing the film’s central relationships, and is quickly made up for by the shift in pace as soon as the war begins.

From the Scottish country side, after this important turning point in world history, War Horse shifts to France, where the titular horse is serving after being sold to the army. The boy is a year or two too young to follow his horse to Europe at this point, so for the next section, the film follows the horse only. From here on out, I will leave the plot a mystery, but it is gripping, thrilling, and very emotional.

So begins Joey’s extraordinary journey as a war horse, one that will carry through the next four years. He will be shipped to France, promoted as the horse for Captain Nicholls of the British Army (Tom Hiddleston), turned into a corpse transporter for the German Army, aid two young German soldiers (David Kross and Leonard Carow) as they attempt to escape, find his way into the home of a sickly French girl (Celine Buckens) and her overprotective grandfather (Niels Arestrup), and finally be captured by the Germans and forced to pull heavy machinery with dozens of other horses.

Even with intense sequences of people being shot and stabbed in the heat of battle, this is singlehandedly the most heartbreaking scene of the entire film. These animals are battered, bloody, and exhausted. A few will collapse and instantly get a bullet in the head, adding to the piles of dead horse bodies littering the sides of the road.

That some of the film is deeply unpleasant, there can be no argument. But you know Spielberg: Even in the darkest times, there’s always a glimmer of hope. And blast it all, isn’t that why we love him so much? That he’s able to see the good in every situation, and that he believes in happy endings? Spielberg is the kind of filmmaker who has steadfastly retained that childlike sense of wonder and optimism, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. In fact, it might even be healthy. Cynical writers and directors have made countless great films, but really, how often do we need to be reminded that life is difficult? I think we’re better off being reminded that, in spite of life’s harshness, the capacity for happiness exists.



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