Wednesday, 28 December 2011

War Horse (rewritten)

War Horse, 2011
Directed by Steven Spielburg
Possible Nominations Include: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography, Best Costumes, Best Editing, Best Original Score, Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing

Synopsis: Joey is an unusual horse. He is beautiful, and strong, and seems to change the lives of everyone he encounters. While still young, he is sold in an auction to a man, and is instantly loved by his teen aged son, Albert. But Joey is a wild horse, and the family feels they've wasted their money on him. They are already tight on money, and Joey must learn to plow fields in order for Albert's family to keep their farm. While everyone doubts him, Albert steps up for the job. And thus begins Albert and Joey's incredible relationship. But this story isn't about Albert. It's about Joey. He's eventually sold to go to World War I as a Calvary horse, but this film shows us just what happens to these horse, who are as much heroes as the soldiers themselves. We see the people Joey touches and changes, and the hardships he sees, and Albert's hope that he might be able to find his horse one day.

I've been really excited for this movie for most of 2011. I first caught wind of it around March or April, and watched the trailer immediately when it came out back in July, and was captivated by all the photos released over the year. Initially, I'll admit it, I was roped in by Jeremy Irvine's incredible good looks, but while that still remains, I was caught up with the story and the idea. And it just looked fantastic.

After watching the Tony awards and seeing the horses they used for the Broadway show, I decided to pick up the book. Luckily, the library had it On Order, and I was the first on the waiting list, and received it a month ago, and read it over the course of about a week. And I loved it.

I was nervous I wouldn't like the movie, though the book was great. I was a little of weary of how much they would change. It was told from the 1st person point of view of the horse, Joey, and didn't know how that would translate to screen. Also, RT stamped it with a 75%. Though not a bad number, it's not a stellar one either. So I lowered my expectations, convinced myself I would hate it (though knowing I would love, just not trying to expect so much as to ruin it) and found myself completely and utterly enthralled.

The bond we see between Joey and Albert is a very believable one. Jeremy Irvine (Albert) had never ridden on horses before the filming of the movie, nor had he had much interaction with them. But the chemistry between them was quite believable, which is what the first half hour, or so, of the movie is based around. We get a long introduction to build Albert and Joey's bond, through Albert's drunken father buying him at an auction, Albert training the horse, and the financial struggle in which the Naracott family (Albert's family) may lose their house. The solution to this it to plow their fields and to grow crops. But Joey isn't a farm or plowing horse. So Albert, once again, must train him, this time in front of the eyes of the community. By the end of this, Albert and Joey have formed a solid team, and a solid foundation for the rest of the film, making Albert's pursuit of Joey seem plausible.

Jeremy Irvine is a solid newcomer. He had been previously in the chorus of a community play, with no lines, before starring in this film. You can see a passion in him, as he acts out the innocence and earnest Albert Naracott. We see him wide-eyed and simple, but passionate in the first "Albert and Joey" act, and we see him (spoiler) beaten, scared and almost blinded (stop spoiler) in the second "Albert and Joey" act. His scenes in the war were perfectly done, mixing the levels of adrenaline, and fear in the trenches and on the battlefield. He embodied the emotions of a young soldier very well. Already being signed on to several more films (including the upcoming Great Expectations starring Ralph Fiennes and Helena Bonham-Carter), we shall see much more of him.

After leaving Joey, the film almost becomes a collection of short stories, all bound together by Joey, which shows us all different sides of WWI. We have the professional Captain Nicholls, the kind man who promises to look out for Joey. We have the underage German soldiers, who flee the war, because all they want is life. We have the French civilians, a young girl and her grandfather, who are occasionally raided by soldiers for food and supplies. And we have the horses pulling cannons, seeing the strain on them, and just how much the horses did for both sides of the war, and the men in charge of the horses. This film breaks down the idea of war, not into a good side-bad side, but into a human side. No side was shown as "evil", but were all shown that there are decent humans out there, and all they want is to live through the war and see their loved ones again.

In the height of the film, we see a moving scene of two soldiers, one British, the other German, meeting in No Man's Land to free Joey from an entanglement of barbed wire, which is one of the most touching scenes in film this year. It is an interesting contrast, seeing the two sides come together, something that happened for real in WWI on Christmas Day (though it included kick-about soccer games, and burying their dead), but it was well done, with a touch of humor and the revelation that, no matter what your background, or what country you serve, there are good people out there.

Additionally, the horses used in the movie were quite talented (for lack of better word). I've always found it interesting that they can train horses to 'act' as the filmmakers want them. But the horses used showed such emotion that you almost believed they were human characters. The showing of Joey's character was done well that we started to really understand the horse. Knowing when he was  nervous, or upset, or knew when he would or wouldn't like something.

Lastly, if nothing else, War Horse was a beautifully made film. Polish cinematographer, Janusz Kaminiski is no stranger to Steven Spielburg, or even the Oscars. He's been nominated 4 times, and won twice both for Spielburg made war films (Schindler's List and Saving Private Ryan). I have no doubt War Horse can land a nomination this year, though it has tough competition, I have hope it can win. And was that last scene not stunning? The horse riding up the hillside, silhouette, and tiny against the landscape? And that nod to Gone With The WInd? Stunning, to say the least. I know the first time I saw it, I let out an audible "wow" more than once.

 Another non-stranger to Spielburg and  the Oscars is John Williams. While John Williams isn't usually my favourite composer (I respect all the scores he's written, especially his iconic themes like Harry Potter and Jurassic Park, I'm more of a strings-relaxed person, than a brass person) but I adored his score for War Horse. It was simple and innocent, but distinctly British, and early 20th century. It captured the spirit so well, and gave me chills when we see (spoiler) Joey, riding in the forest alone, showing us Captain Nicholls has died. Additionally, that scene was incredibly effective and chilling. The second time I saw this film, with a larger audience, there was a unanimous sigh of sadness, literally. It was a very well done, and effective moment, because you didn't see the death. (stop spoiler). I expect John Williams will be nominated once again. While I feel it's definitely his time to win again, we'll have to see. The Oscars never seems to award what I think should win.

Overall, I really, really liked the film. The strongest parts of it were the scenes with Albert, the beginning half hour, and the last 45 minutes or so, of the Battle of the Somme scenes at the end. While the stories in the middle are admittedly a little bit weaker, they are moving, nonetheless. This film was a very moving one, and taught me a lot about WWI. While I think it definitely has the stuff to compete and win Best Picture, not enough agree with me, though I'll be happy to see it's nomination, and see what awards it can garner in the art and visual categories.



  1. Nice review! I'm glad you liked it, and I agree that it is going to d well this awards season!

  2. I loved War Horse and I agree with your review. The Somme scenes towards the end of the film were brilliant. Great review!