If you go into Steven Spielberg’s ‘War Horse’ expecting anything more than a World War I drama from the perspective of a horse, you’ll probably be sorely disappointed. However, if you go into ‘War Horse’ knowing what to expect, then you might not get bored as the film slowly trots along, and you may be able to recognize the over-indulgent beauty of it all.
The two-and-a-half hour film opens with our central character, the horse, being born. We watch as he’s sold off to a stubborn man who brings the unruly steed to his humble and rocky Irish farm. The man’s teenage son quickly takes to the horse, giving him the name of Joey. Because the family is on the brink of losing the farm due to the unfriendly soil, they hope that Joey will plow and remove rocks to make the land fertile again and ensure their security.
Not long after Joey proves to have been a worthy, if expensive, purchase, the first Great War in Europe kicks off. The family sells the horse to a cavalry soldier headed to fight on the frontlines in France. From there, we see how this resilient horse affects the lives of the people he meets along the way. As the war rages in the trenches, Joey’s owners come and go. ‘War Horse’ becomes a symbolic, episodic journey of a soldier horse trying to survive a war and get home.
While the material with the horse isn’t all that great (unless you’re a horse aficionado), the people you’ll meet in the different chapters of the war make the story worthwhile. The cavalryman who first takes Joey to Europe is a noble soldier with integrity. The two boys who own him next try to preserve their innocence during war. The little girl who owns him after that sees Joey as a source of hope that reminds her of the way life is supposed to be lived. The last encounter holds the strongest scene in the entire movie. I’ll let you discover that one on your own.
‘War Horse’ often feels like Spielberg’s way of paying tribute to classic cinema (such as ‘Gone with the Wind‘), much like Martin Scorsese did with ‘Hugo‘ earlier this year. Although not the greatest movie of the year, if you know that you’re going to see a long and slow character-driven drama made to feel like film from the ’30s or ’40s, then you should enjoy this fine work of art.