December 26, 2011

A Boy and his Horse

Nothing like a saccharine sweet film like War Horse to brighten up Christmas Day. Jeremy Irvine plays Albert Narracott, son of Ted (Peter Mullan), a Boer War veteran who drinks to forget his war time experiences. Ted becomes locked in a bidding war at auction with his cartoonishly evil landlord Lyons (David Thewlis) and makes the impractical decision of buying a race horse instead of a plow horse like his wife Rose (Emily Watson) wanted. Albert bonds with the horse, and volunteers for the impossible task of training him to work the land.

As Britain goes to war against Germany, horse and boy get separated. Albert promises to find his equine friend. Along the way, Joey meets a kind cavalry captain (Tom Hiddleston), two German brothers, and a too-precocious French girl Emilie (Celine Buckens) and her loving grandfather (Niels Arestrup). He also forms a touching friendship with another horse, Topthorn. The horses give wonderful performances. The movie would not have worked if it weren't for the animals and their trainers.

Mr. Spielberg clearly wanted to do an epic film. Shot in film stock, the colors and images are vivid and magnificent. Pair it up with a sweeping score by long-time collaborator John Williams, and there you have it: a movie evocative of the Technicolor films of old. The palette of the final scenes especially reminded me of Gone with the Wind. Clocking in at 146 minutes, the film could have used some trimming, especially in the beginning with the long, lingering shots of Albert watching the horse. It picks up when the horse finally goes to war.

The battle scenes and the horrors of trench warfare will make you flinch. I could almost sense how those soldiers got shell-shocked. The movie's anti-war sentiment is evident. But the affecting scene at No-Man's Land is enough to redeem human nature. If you want a heartrending tale of a boy and his horse, go see this story of friendship and love. You will need tissues and you will feel manipulated by the filmmakers. But that didn't stop me from enjoying this overly sentimental movie.

(photo from Collider)


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