War Horse


I can already see it. Many, many people are going to love this movie, LOVE it. But there are some, critics mostly, who’ll inevitably pan it. Funny thing is that both sides will do so for basically the same reason.

This is a pure Spielberg movie through and through, with the wide-eyed sense of wonder, epic scope and brilliant production values you expect, as well as the fact that it’s blatantly sentimental, which is where the Beard tends to lose grumpier scribes. Few filmmakers know how to work an audience and push the audience’s emotional buttons as well as Spielberg, and he’s going at it full throttle in “War Horse.”

An adaptation of Michael Morpurgo’s 1982 novel in which World War I was viewed through the eyes of a horse, the film sometimes superficially resembles “Au Hasard Balthazar” (in which the protagonist was a donkey) , but even though the film is mostly set in France, we’re not so much in Robert Bresson territory here as in the grand old tradition of classic Hollywood prestige pictures. Think John Ford, “Gone with the Wind”, David Lean, a bit of Kubrick’s “Paths of Glory”… But think Spielberg, most of all.

Starting with the birth of our thoroughbred hero in Devon, England, as witnessed by young Albert (Jeremy Irvine), who’ll name the beast Joey and tame him, the movie then follows the two of them as they struggle to plow a field in order to save the family farm from being reclaimed by the landlord (David Thewlis). That first act is note-perfect, truly involving us in this story of a boy and his horse. Irvine is great as the young lad, who somehow made me think of the fundamentally decent and loyal Samwise as played by Sean Astin in the “LOTR” trilogy, Emily Watson and Peter Mullan are both splendid as his mum and dad, and through the magic of cinema, the horse also delivers a magnificent performance, seemingly conveying all kinds of emotion though his big black eyes (I also loved the goose, heh).

A feisty, noble, beautiful creature, Joey is put the test more than ever when the Great War breaks out and he ends up being sold to a British officer (Tom Hiddleston), but also serving in the German army, being adopted by a French jam maker (Niels Arestrup) and his granddaughter and, in one of the most hauntingly memorable sequences in the film, desperately wandering the No Man’s Land between the British and German trenches…

Filled with overwhelming visions of beauty and horror, this tale of a miraculous horse features some relatively long stretches without dialogue, all visual storytelling courtesy of Spielberg and cinematographer extraordinaire Janusz Kamiński, though with the assist of wall-to-wall John Williams

And it all builds up to a wordless sunset finale that won’t leave a dry eye in the house. Expect “War Horse” to win (or at least get nominated for) a whole lot of Oscars.