WAR HORSE invades theaters this Christmas Day. Director Steven Spielberg started production on this film right after he saw the stage play saying, “the play made me cry because, the hope that the horse brings to Albert and brings to every human character in the play”. But the key in this film is making the scenes not only stirring and beautiful but keeping the synergy of the story intact. This is certainly the most visually stunning film you will see this holiday season, and maybe the year.
The story follows a horse named Joey from the time he is bought at auction by a struggling land owner (Peter Mullan), through his “drafting” into WWI, to the many people he comes in contact with during the war. It is also about Albert (Jeremy Irvine) the son of the landowner who trains and cares for Joey and actually enlists in the military in order to find Joey and bring him home safe.
This film is epic in just about every category possible; from the writing to the cinematography to the soundtrack. Spielberg handles this film with a detailed eye and nothing is left out. There have been many movies with a horse as the central character. This one needed more in order to catapult it above the others. In this one you have the incredible set design and landscape. Whether it is a green, plush hillside or the charred and burned overturned-earth of no man’s land; every inch of the screen is eye catching.
Keep in mind that this is not a war film. As Spielberg stated, “I don’t consider “War Horse” to be a movie about war, I don’t consider it to be a quintessential World War I Picture. The War is a backdrop. It provides the necessary drama to pull these characters apart and eventually reunite them. So War is more of a catalyst than the cause celeb of this story. This is a Human Narrative.” At the same time there are many powerful war moments and each is shot with the same styling of Steven’s earlier works.
The cast is amazing and the lengths they went through to train with the horses and the calvary scenes paid off. Tom Hiddleston plays Captain Nicholls and is the first to take Joey into battle. He promises Albert to return him safely after it is all over. In reference to the training Tom said, “the training itself was exhilarating and thrilling every single day, because there’s nothing I love more than the challenge of mastering a new physical discipline”.
The intensity of the horses in battle will be the hardest moments for some theater goers to watch. The scenes are so stunning that it is hard to remind yourself that the animals were never in any real danger during filming. You will stay on the edge of your seat and at times avert your eyes as Joey struggles to survive. The depiction of what the horses during WWI were expected to do is startling and emotionally draining for animal lovers of any level.
WAR HORSE is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of war violence. There is nothing offensive here but the intense sequences may make you second guess taking your younger family members; especially the 12 and under ones. Fans of the play will love this adaptation and applaud the craft that went into bringing the story to life. It is certainly a film of hope and inspiration and you will feel every level of emotion. I give it 4.5 out of 5 for the film making process. If you are looking for substance in the theater then this is your best bet.