War Horse ~ A Capsule Movie Review by Allen Kopp
Steven Spielberg’s new movie, War Horse, is like the kind of movie they don’t make (much) anymore. With its notable absence of four-letter words and its lush, retro-sounding music score, it has a kind of old-fashioned, Lassie Come Home feel to it. It’s a “family” movie (based on a children’s novel by Michael Murpurgo), but that doesn’t mean it’s only for kids. With the proper “suspension of disbelief,” many adults should like it too.
In 1914 Devon, England, struggling farmer Ted Narracott (Peter Mullen) buys a horse at auction that he can’t really afford; he’s about to lose his farm. The horse is more of a show horse than a farm horse. His wife (Emily Watson) tells him to take the horse back this instant, but we know he’s not going to do that. For his teen son, Albert (Jeremy Irvine), it’s love at first sight. He names the horse Joey and promises to train him and take care of him.
Things are not going well at the Narracott farm; farmer Ted is not able to make of the place a going concern. War has broken out between England and Germany, so farmer Ted sells Joey to the cavalry for the little bit of money he can get. Albert is understandably broken-hearted; you just don’t sell something you love as much as he loves Joey. He wants to join up to be near Joey, but he is too young.
A sympathetic officer, Captain Nicholls (Tom Hiddleston), recognizes what a fine horse Joey is. When he discovers what Joey means to Albert, he promises to take Joey as his own personal horse and return him to Albert when the war is over. It’s not the only time that Joey, through a twist of fate, experiences kindness in strangers. Maybe it’s not such a rotten world after all.
When Captain Nicholls is killed in a skirmish with the Germans, Joey falls into the hands of a young French girl, Emilie, and her grandfather. Emilie loves Joey and comes to consider him her own horse; she, of course, doesn’t know his history or anything about him. One day when she is riding Joey over a hill, she comes across the invading German army. The Germans take everything Emilie and her grandfather have, including Joey. They use him for pulling cannons through the mud, work that will eventually kill him. But do the Germans care? When Joey succumbs, they’ll have another horse waiting at the ready.
Joey experiences war at first-hand but, like the trouper he is, he perseveres. At one point he becomes hopelessly entangled in barbed wire on the battlefield with shells going off all around him. In my favorite scene in the movie, a young British soldier risks his life to go to Joey and extricate him with wire cutters. While he is setting Joey free, a German soldier emerges from an opposing trench. The two young soldiers, British and German, have a brief but telling (and beautifully written) conversation.
The war goes on long enough that Albert ends up in the British army. He has never given up on getting Joey back, although he doesn’t know all the terrible things that Joey has been through since he last saw him. Albert is gassed in the trenches by the Germans and temporarily (we learn) loses his eyesight.
Through all the twists and turns that Albert and Joey experience, the story comes full-circle in the end. While there might be a little too much irony in the conclusion to be entirely believable, it’s impossible not to be moved by it, especially if you are the sort who understands the love that exists between a boy and his horse (or the love between any human and any animal).
Copyright © 2012 by Allen Kopp