War Horse

I found “War Horse,” the new Steven Spielberg movie, well worth seeing.  It successfully puts all of Spielberg’s impressive skills together in one movie, including the family drama, war epic and pet story.  War Horse doesn’t really compare with the ultimate Spielberg pet story, 1982’s “E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial,” but it follows the same orphan story, only with a horse instead of an alien.

A boy and his horse

After seeing the World War I scenes in War Horse, I’m looking forward to seeing Spielberg’s take on the Civil War in “Lincoln,” which is in production now. We see horrific battles in War Horse but Spielberg doesn’t show any blood; so we’re left with a nice combination of spectacle and emotion.  It looks pretty, but big pictures should look good.  As much as I like little movies with low budgets and clever independent productions, I appreciate it when directors like Ford, Hawks, Scorsese and Spielberg film the epic stories.  Spielberg did the story right by taking the little stage production of War Horse to such exhilarating epic heights.

Jeremy Irvine plays Albert Narracott, an English boy who loves his horse, Joey. The spirited horse, although somewhat scrawny, proves his worth by plowing a rocky field while Albert’s entire village looks on. In this moving scene, Albert’s mind melds with Joey and they seem destined to be a lifelong pairing. But World War 1 breaks out and the English cavalry requires horses for their campaigns. Albert reluctantly sells his beloved Joey to the cavalry. Somehow, this undersized plow horse becomes a mount for Captain James Nicholls (Tom Hiddleston), who rides Joey into battle in full cavalry charge against an ambush by a German battalion. That doesn’t go well for Joey and he ends up captured and pulling wagons for the Germans.

The movie switches back and forth from the horse’s story to Albert’s story. Albert’s war experience doesn’t go well either, especially when he gets caught up in a mustard gas attack. A key scene in the movie occurs when Joey bolts off into a barb-wire infested “no-man’s land” and gets hopelessly entangled by barbed wire. A British soldier waves a white flag and the Germans allow him to rescue Joey. The soldier borrows wire cutters from a German and they proceed to free the horse together. Joey’s later return to the British side makes possible a reunion with Albert, but Albert is blind from the gas attack and their reunion seems unattainable. The movie cleverly plays out this last plot point and manages to come to a tidy and understandable conclusion.

Spielberg uses computer graphics to show Joey’s romp through the no-man’s land, where shells explode as Joey jumps over trenches and debris. Nevertheless, I got so caught up in rooting for Joey that I could accept these lapses in realism. I loved the inspiring story and the exciting war action, which raise the movie to epic status.

 

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