By: Oberst Von Berauscht (Two Beers) –
Albert Narracott (Jeremy Irvine) raised and trained his family’s horse “Joey” ever since his father bought it at auction. Despite not having the build of a work horse, Joey quickly impresses everyone by his spirit and devotion to Albert. Disaster strikes twice when war is declared with Germany and the Narrcott’s crops are destroyed by a terrible storm. In desperate need of the money, Alberts father sells Joey to an officer, in spite of Albert’s pleas. The film then follows Joey as he passes through various owners on both sides of the war, and Albert as he joins up for the coming fight.
Coming off the heels of the farcical Indiana Jones And the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, Director Steven Spielberg returns to the chair with two films this year which will undoubtedly be appraised by historians as some of his best work. War Horse is not the sort of movie you would expect to come from Hollywood nowadays. It feels like it could have been made fifty years ago, and Directed by John Ford, or Howard Hawks. Indeed, the film stands in a class of its own in this modern and cynical world as an audacious love-letter to classic cinema epics.
From the gorgeous countryside of Devon, to the filthy muck and waste of no man’s land, War Horse is beautifully shot. Nearly every scene of the film seems inspired by paintings or photographs of the period. Cinematographer Janusz Kaminski has worked successfully with Steven Spielberg many times before, but in War Horse he bests all of his previous efforts.
The movie also boasts powerful performances by a who’s who cast of character actors. Spielberg wisely strayed away from casting celebrities in order to more easily establish the historic setting. The most notable performance is that of Peter Mullen, who plays Albert’s father Ted.
but not this Father Ted…
Ted is a man whose fondness for alcohol and distain for his landlord gets him into trouble. But Peter Mullen delivers a sympathetic performance that shows Ted’s true colors. Ted isn’t the same man he was before coming home from the Boer War, and his feelings of inadequacy often prompt him into making enough poor decisions for a bluejeans commercial.
And bad mistakes, I’ve made a few…
Perhaps the film’s greatest strength however is the Richard Curtis / Lee Hall penned script. Curtis’ influence is felt immediately with moments of humor which help to humanize the film’s characters. One gets the feeling that ever since Blackadder Goes Forth, Curtis has been working up the courage to get involved in a more serious period piece about the Great War. And this isn’t to downplay Lee Hall’s involvement, which is clearly showcased by the more humanistic elements. Dramatic fiction has rarely benefitted more from the collaboration of a dramatic writer and a comedian.
If there is anything to complain about in War Horse it might be that the character of Albert feels one-dimensional. He seems drawn to Joey from the beginning, but the film never fully explains their connection. Actor Jeremy Irvine does his best with the material he has to work with, but I can’t seem to come up with a better explanation for the man-horse friendship other than “because the script says so.” This leads to some awkward moments where the friendship seems to border on romance… Catherine the Great style romance…
If you don’t know what this means, you’re better off not Googling it
A beautiful film, with a fantastic cast. My only complaint is the fact that I have so little to complain about (and bonus Kudos to Spielberg, who reportedly used CGI to accomplish only 3 shots in the entire film, and using practical effects for everything else).
Bonus Drinking Game
Take a Drink: whenever Albert stares at the horse, longingly…
Take a Drink: whenever Ted takes a pull from his flask
Down a Shot: whenever Joey changes owners