By Bob and Sandy Nesoff
Few movies in recent years have moved an audience to rise from seats at the conclusion, applaud and stand still while watching the credits. War Horse was one of them.
One of the best war movies—make that one of the best movies ever produced was “The Killing Fields.” The film showed the absolute brutality of the vicious Khmer Rouge in Cambodia slaughtering millions of their own people. Audiences left theaters absolutely drained by the intensity of the film. It stripped war naked and drew the audience into the brutality of man vs. man.
War Horse does not skimp on the brutality of war, but it shows a human side to the combatants and how even those trying to kill each other can show compassion and humanity. Joey, the War Horse, has an understanding of those around him shared by few humans. He responds to kindness and patience and is forlorn when another horse he has bonded with dies. With all the horror and death in the end it is an uplifting tale.
Spielberg has cast a virtual unknown, 21-year old Jeremy Irvine in the role of Albert Narracott, a young English farm boy who raises and trains a horse only to lose him to the military as World War I breaks out.
Think “Call of the Wild,” about a dog that goes from master to master in Alaska, sometimes fending on his own and at other times eking out life in the care of others. Transport that to the battlefields of “The War to end all wars,” and you have the basics of War Horse. If a horse can have “character,” Joey, the stallion has it in spades. He survives artillery attacks, cavalry charges and entanglement in barbed wire. Although some of the instances border on the preposterous, the audience is forgiving because the story is so compelling. Some in the audience commented that the story could have been trimmed somewhat to shorten it’s nearly two and a half hour length. The majority of those in the theater did not appear to agree.
Peter Mullen, cast as a downtrodden farmer harboring dark feelings over his role in the Boer War, has turned to drink and buys Joey at an auction, spending money that should have gone to pay the rent on his farm.
Mullen is perfectly cast in the role as is Emily Watson as his formerly beautiful wife, worn down by the hardscrabble life they live. Irvine, their son, does a remarkable job in his first film role and brings believability and empathy to Albert Narracott.
Opened in general release on Christmas day, the time of year when many films are thrown into the mix in order to take advantage of holiday movie-goers and to earn eligibility for the Academy Awards, War Horse earned its spurs. If War Horse does not take home its share, there is no justice.