War Horse Review
I was lucky to see a sneak preview of War Horse, the PG-13 WWI war drama on the big screen. No narration from Joey’s point of view, no spectacular puppetry; instead it is emotional narrative film script about how War Horse touches lives. New perspectives become visible with every interaction of characters. This is neither Michael Morpurgo’s novel nor Nick Stafford’s play adaptation. Author Murpurpo even chose to appear in a cameo role. To me that is evidence he approved and played a part in the movie’s development.
The script is sentimental, optimistic. Its theme is connections, moments of detente. The story itself is an intense but not repulsive emotional journey, definitely NOT for very young children. War Horse is not to be a cute, anthropomorphic, magical animal; he is meant to show the real toll of war.
Fourteen different horses–young foals, riding horses, non-riding horses–were used for filming. No matter how intense the war front scenes appear, no animal was injured or killed. Three CG shoots were used to keep the horses safe. No real blood was shed. Special effects included animatronics for closeups of horses riding and painted styrofoam/rubber barbed wire to create the illusion of wounds.
Plot Synopsis: The colt Joey is born in rural Devon farm country. Although he is spirited, jumpy, and not considered a working animal, a bidding war brings him to stubborn Ted Narracott (Peter Mullan). Unless son Albert Jeremy Irvine) can train him within the month, the family stands to lose everything. Mum (Emily Watson) helps her son understand his father and what the killing of war did to him.
The boy realizing this is Joey’s first time away from home and his mother trains him gently, rewarding with oats. He succeeds in training the horse, and his father, a proud Boar War hero, takes his hat off to him. Then the father is forced to sell off the horse to pay his debts.
With World War I declared, the captain in the cavalry who buys Joey AKA War Horse, promises to care for him then return him to the the care of the boy who so dearly loves him.
From England across the English Channel to France 12914, the story moves. War Horse becomes a miraculous kind of horse in no man’s land. As a symbol of life and unfailing courage, he perseveres and never gives up. Far from home, across all borders, hope survives. The death of the captain (Tom Hiddleston), the kindness of Emilie Celine Buckens), Peter and Colin’s no man’s land coin toss, now foot soldier Albert Narracott finding War Horse then losing him to an old man (Niels Arestrup) , and so many more human connections, friendships, separations are intense but not repulsive. War Horse’s journey in time leads him home.
Movie Followup: I was invited to War Horse star Emma Watson’s December 5, 2011, Q & A post-screening. Living in Great Britain, she told how every family on the Western Front has a story. Spielberg’s selfless magic together with the dynamics on set put together a powerful one that needed telling. I was charmed by the sense and sensibilities of this lovely woman whose supporting role as strong woman Rose Narracott who pivotally influenced other characters.
Emma Watson told of her children, her son’s testing limits, a normal life in England where public and private remain separate, keeping her kids around with limited screen time, centered, reading. I like her grounded approach to life as much as I like her fine acting.
Final thoughts: Director Spielberg with Williams’s score, Kaminski’s cinematography, and a cast of actors both experienced and unknown has put together a memorable movie that will garner many awards. Be forewarned though: the comic goose is a scene stealer.
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