Hail the equine hero
Direction: Steven Spielberg
Cast: JJeremy lrvine, Emily Watson
Close on the heels of the 3D animated romp The Adventures of Tintin, here's another crowd-pleaser from the box office supremo Steven Spielberg. An old-fashioned, inspirational saga, War Horse tells the story of a young farm hand (Irvine) who develops an abiding bond with a spirited steed named Joey.
Adapted from the young-adult novel by Michael Morpurgo, the screenplay traces Joey's unwitting four-year odyssey from the idyllic English countryside to the corpse-strewn trenches of the First World War. As the thoroughbred is passed from the British cavalry to German soldiers and a French farming family, his teen owner enlists in the army to find and bring his four-legged friend back home.
A little too earnest for its own good, the narrative evokes many of the director's familiar themes from the insanity of war (Saving Private Ryan) to the sense of wonder aroused by a non-human creature (E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial).
At the same time, Spielberg's trademark sentimentality is evident, heightened occasionally by the surging background music score of the multiple Oscar-winner John Williams.
Tenderly worshipped by some, cruelly used by others, the equine hero's fortitude never wavers even when he gets tangled in barbed wire while charging across a battlefield. In a scene which underscores the inherent humanity of the troops, two soldiers — one English, the other German — come to the animal's aid.
The combat sequences have the sweep and grandeur of the epics made by John Ford (My Darling Clementine) and David Lean (Lawrence of Arabia). The muddy hell of the hostilities on the French front is a throwback to Stanley Kubrick's seminal Paths of Glory (1957)
There's marvelous movie craft on display here from Janusz Kaminski's ravishingly-lit images to the meticulous production design by Rick Carter. Besides newcomer Jeremy Irvine, the exciting ensemble includes Emily Watson and Peter Mullan as his parents and veteran French actor Niels Arestrup as the doting granddad. Most memorable of all, of course, is Finders Key the horse (among a dozen or so others) used most often to portray Joey. Saddle up on War Horse for an emotionally wrenching ride.