Thursday, December 29, 2011

Warhorse. Movie Review

I went to see War Horse over the Christmas holidays and overall, I enjoyed this movie very much. It is a drama about a boy and his beloved horse, whom he loses to the cavalry in theGreat War (World War I).

Albert Narracott (Jeremy Irvine) and his parents, Ted and Rosie, are tenant farmers on the estate of a wealthy man named Lyons (David Thewlis). When Ted attends a local auction, he gets into a bidding war with Lyons and ends up paying 30 guineas that he cannot afford, for a thoroughbred horse that is skitterish, stubborn and completely useless to him.

When Albert sees the horse his father has purchased he is thrilled because he has loved this horse from afar for some time. He reassures his father that he will train the horse whom he names Joey, to pull the plough. Despite ridicule and hostility from Lyons and his sons, Albert does succeed in training Joey to plough and his gentle ways with the horse calm and tame him. They form a bond that is deep and lasting.

However, when disaster strikes, Ted is forced to sell Joey to the British cavalry in order to save the farm. World War I has just broken out and this means that Joey will go overseas with the British army to fight in the war. Albert is stricken to learn this but he is reassured by Captain Nicholls who has purchased Joey, that he will write to him and take good care of Joey.

What follows are the adventures of Joey throughout the Great War, as he passes from Nicholls who dies during a cavalry charge against the Germans, into the hands of many different people including the German army. Joey is deeply traumatized as a workhorse in the German army and flees through the trenches and into No Man's Land, in a final effort to escape. There in a frenzied terror, he is trapped in the barbed wire, unable to free himself and horribly wounded. When the English and Germans realize what has happened, they work together to free the injured animal. Who he will go with is determined by a toss of a coin; the English win and Joey is taken to a field hospital.

Meanwhile when Albert comes of age, he joins the war effort and is sent overseas. Albert is seriously injured in a gas attack and is taken to a field hospital to be treated. It is there that he is reunited with his beloved horse.

Director Steven Spielberg has taken an great animal story and made it into an old style Hollywood movie. The cinematography is incredibly beautiful with the gorgeous Devon countryside in stark contrast to the stark, macabre reality of No Man's Land. The acting is superb; no actor overwhelms the story and takes it away from the main character - which is of course, the horse. Jeremy Irvine is an adequate Albert.

War Horse is a book written for children ages 9 to 12 and the movie takes this into account. Spielberg captures the reality of war without all the gore and blood. For example, when the two young German deserters are caught, their execution in a field is blocked out by the timely passing of the blade of a nearby windmill. No Man's Land, pock marked, filled with corpses, smoke and fire, is eery but not overly frightening. Even Joey, when completely caught in the barbed wire, has injuries that are suggested but not really shown. A horse racing through fences and fences of barbed wire would be a bloodied mess. Just watching Joey race through the black doom of No Man's Land is enough to convey the absolute distress of the horse and the horror of it all.

The occasional use of humour to provide comic relief is well done. One of the best scenes in the movie is the interaction between the British and German soldiers as they work together briefly to free Joey. In fact, I thought that many of the soldier characters were especially well cast.

I would love to see the broadway play of the same name, in part because of the unique design of the horses.

 And I plan on reading Morpurgo's short novel.

This is a great movie, well suited for boys aged 9 to 12 years of age. At almost 2 hours in length, it's a bit long and could have been shortened somewhat by about 20 minutes. But otherwise, I highly recommend it because it's something quite different than the usual fare being pumped out by Hollywood these days.

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