War Horse – 2011
Directed by Steven Speilberg
Starring Jeremy Irvine, Emily Watson, Peter Mullan, David Thewlis, Benedict Cumberbatch, Tom Hiddleston
Screenplay by Richard Curtis and Lee Hall based on War Horse by Michael Morpurgo
From the first time a commercial for this film happened upon our screen, Em has bugged her mother and (especially) me to let her watch this movie. Being that it took place during one of the bloodiest wars in human kind, we were not too eager to head into the theater expecting National Velvet. International War Velvet, more like. Still, Spielberg had to know what the audience for this movie would be, and we were pretty sure we knew enough to expect by the time it arrived on video. Ultimately our sources at Common Sense Media allowed us the comfort of knowing that not only was this a safe movie, it was actually a pretty good one for kids just north of our oldest child’s 9 years. So one night, after our youngest went to bed, we let our young, intrepid reviewer soak in everything that Spielberg wanted to show us about the cruelty of war to a horse and his boy.
The movie is, in a word, engrossing. Emily did not move during the entire thing. She didn’t speak once either. From the time that farmer Ted Narracott (Mullan) stubbornly purchases the horse that his rival and landlord, Mr. Lyans (Thewlis) wanted, we get to see this rather lucky purchase transform his son, Albert (Irvine) and give to him a sense of purpose. This sense of purpose, nice as it is, is quickly interrupted by the sad reality of a sharecropper in the UK in the early 20th Century. Soon enough the horse moves from farm hand to the War Horse of the title. The events that lead to this are improbable, to be sure. One is going to have to get used to extreme coincidence.
Every bit of War Horse is well acted, meticulously directed and drenched in sentimentality. Special mention must be made for Hiddleston and Irvine. Spielberg is an expert at making material palatable to all audiences, and terribly real at the same time. Anyone who saw Jurassic Park knows what this means. Shocking events happen as the camera pans, or something like a windmill blade obstructs the view. The result accomplishes traction in the storytelling, without losing anyone in the process.
What does one learn while watching War Horse? I am not sure. Most people living in these times have been touched by war. One of Spielberg’s lesser films, A.I. comes to mind when watching this movie. The theme to the film was, near as I can tell, “man’s inhumanity to robots.” It resonated not one bit. In this one, there are lots of good humans around, who would like nothing more than to help the horse, Joey, and his erstwhile partner, Topthorn. Then war gets in the way, of course. This message did not make as much sense to me, but should resonate with lots of horse lovers. It’s a matter of a skewed perspective that I can understand in the abstract. A horse to me is outranked by humans. I would not condone cruelty to them by any means, but then, I would go back and save a person first when it came down to it. There are people out there, plenty of them if you look at the worldwide receipts for this film who would go for the horse first.
My daughter might be one of them. She drank in the images of the film, and spoke to me only when the horse was going through tough times or good times. The rest of the characters were only important to her if they were kind to the horses.
In this way, Spielberg hit the right notes with War Horse. This film, if directed in the same way another director, would likely be a landmark movie for that director. As it stands, it is one of the better films of his own career. I have had my issues with Spielberg the director and more with Spielberg the producer, but let’s just say I am happy that the film took place in a time before most of today’s advertisers would have a way to get their products placed.
This movie should be good for anyone in the family who is 13 and above, 9 and above with parental supervision. There’s no kidding here, folks. Spielberg really has made a movie that kids can watch, learn from, and not have nightmares by. If your kid loves all things horses, and you are not afraid to broach some more difficult subjects with them, this movie is well worth your time.
So was War Horse as good of a movie as you thought it would be?
How was it better?
About the horse, how pretty he was. And some parts weren’t as good. I have a passion for horses.
So what do you mean some parts weren’t as good?
The part where they shot the 14-year-old and 16-year-old to death (for desertion). The Germans were mean.
So tell me what you think about Joey, the horse?
I think he was a really pretty horse, and the right choice for the Albert’s Dad to pick him.
Wasn’t he too expensive for a horse that wasn’t a plow horse?
Yeah, but they were bidding. And he wanted that horse. He was probably drunk.
So did the Dad’s drinking upset you?
It kind of scared me because I thought he would die in the movie.
What about when he almost shot the horse?
It was really scary.
So it is kind of scary when people drink too much?
Did you like any other horses in the film?
I liked the black one, what’s his name again?
Topthorn. What did you like about him?
He had this blaze on his forehead. Black is my favorite horse color. And bay.
Would you recommend this movie for other kids your age?
If their parents let them.
What do you give this movie?
9 and 1/2 out of 10. If the Dad didn’t drink I would give it a 10.