Release Date: Dec. 25, 2011
Running Time: 146 minutes
Director Steven Spielberg’s latest war campaign puts to the test the Spanish proverb that a horse is worth more than riches. The star of War Horse is the tenacious thoroughbred Joey. He’s purchased at auction by a farmer (Peter Mullan) in need of a plough horse, bonds with his son Albert (Jeremy Irvine), and is then sold to a British calvary officer (Tom Hiddleston) for service in World War I. The friendship that exists between Albert and Joey drives the narrative of this overly sentimental adaptation of Michael Morpurgo’s book and the subsequent stage play. Spielberg chronicles Albert and Joey’s experiences in war-ravaged France, with Albert as much fearful of his horse’s fate as he is with his own. Joey changes hands multiple times, allowing Spielberg to present World War I through different eyes. It’s a device that works with varying degrees of success. Spielberg’s sympathies lean with the British suffering in the trenches and the French coping with life under an occupying force, so their stories are more intriguing and enlightening than those of the German soldiers he focuses on. Spielberg tries to put a human face on the enemy through their kind treatment of Joey, but the brutality they show toward each other makes its hard to accept their perspective of the war. As Albert, blustery newcomer Jeremy Irvine can barely handle the wide range of emotions that is needed to draw us into his plight. What keeps us watching is the inherent concern we possess for the safety of the graceful, resilient Joey. War Horse unfolds in grand, sweeping fashion that recalls the epics of David Lean and the westerns of John Ford. With as his other youth-oriented war film, Empire of the Sun, Spielberg steers clear of graphic violence in War Horse because this tale of friendship is aimed at families. He manages to effectively communicate the horrors of war, but only one scene—involving Joey’s rescue in no-man’s land—shakes you to your core in the way it plays out. This moment, which argues that compassion can exist on the battlefield, sadly isn’t enough to elevate War Horse to the ranks of Saving Private Ryan or Schindler’s List.
Aired: Dec. 29, 2011
Web site: http://www.dreamworksstudios.com/films/war-horse