Directed by Steven Spielberg, War Horse is quite a departure from the children’s book it was adapted from. Spielberg’s retooling of the book is apparent as scenes from World War I come to life on the screen through beautifully shot cinematography and murky colour palettes. That being said, this fantastic film should be watched by viewers of all ages, because at its core, it is about the bond of friendship between a boy and his horse.
And if an animal could be nominated for an Academy Award, then the horse, Joey, would be taking home the gold. Here, he shines in his excellent performance, with acts of valour, comedy, and even unexpected tenderness.
The films begins in the small town of Devon in England, where a financially troubled farmer, Ted Narracott (Peter Mullan), drunk and overcome by his need to best his arrogant landlord, overbids at an auction, and brings home a colt instead of the plough horse his farm needs. While this event is received with horror by his wife Rose (Emily Watson), it is met with joy by his teenage son Albert (Jeremy Irvine), who quickly forms a bond with the horse.
Intelligent and personable, we instantly note that Joey doesn’t horse around. And after performing a marvel that nearly helps save the Narracott farm, Joey is quickly dubbed a ‘miracle horse’. But then, tragedy strikes as World War I breaks out and, under great financial strain, Ted sells Joey to the army to the disgust of his son. From this point on, the film follows Joey’s adventures, as he befriends another horse in the army, and goes through a series of adventures on the French countryside, until he finds himself on the German side of the battleground. Meanwhile, Albert too joins the army in hopes of finding Joey.
The adventures Joey goes through allow Spielberg to masterfully tell various side stories during the time of war, some of which even humanises those on the German side. One particularly poignant one, where a German and a British soldier come to Joeys’ aid, reminds one of man’s humanity even in the midst of war.
War Horse is scored by a beautiful soundtrack, which allows it to build one stirring scene after another. In the hands of another director, these sequences could have been sickly sweet, but here, Spielberg is at the top of his game having, in this film, put together a real thoroughbred.
Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, March 18th, 2012.