Monday, January 16, 2012

Movie Review: War Horse

Whenever Steven Spielberg is in the director's chair you're guaranteed a nearly flawless storytelling. War Horse is no exception. The care to the story that movies goers have come to expect, as well as amazing cinematography, is ever present.

If we've learned anything over the course of Spielberg's career, it's that he knows how to tell a story. That he can so easily manipulate an entire theater's emotions is part of his gift. He's warmed our hearts with an alien's love and friendship with a young boy (E.T.), given rebirth to our inner child (Jurassic Park), and brought the horrors of World War 2 to our consciousness.

Based on the novel by the same title, as well as the London Theatre play; War Horse follows the story of Alby, a boy on the cusp of adulthood, and Joey, his horse. In order to save the family farm, the young man sells the horse without warning to a British Cavalry Captain preparing to go off to battle with the Germans in World War 1. In a heart wrenching scene, the young captain promises Alby that he will do his very best to return Joey as soon as the conflict is over. Alby bids Joey farewell promising him that he will find him and they will be together again.

For the next two hours or so the audience is bombarded with emotion packed scenes both beautiful and grotesque. Joey changes hands - and sides - multiple times, and is on the edge of death more times that one can count. For most of the film, the audience sees the story from Joey's perspective. We see him make friends with a fellow war horse, and sacrifice himself for his friend. We see him learn things that no one believes him capable. We see Joey do what many would only describe as "the impossible."
Highlight for spoilers:
I am not a cryer. I know I say that and then two of the last movie reviews I've done have me tearing up or uncontrollable tears. But I've never had raking sobs in a movie theater. I'd heard about them in relation to Schindler's List or Titanic (the first one I get why, second one I still can't take seriously) and always wondered why people couldn't control it. How they could let themselves be so emotional in public.
Let me tell you, I now understand. When your emotions are so manipulated by a master director or story writer, you have no control. The climatic scene of Joey's friend losing his life (not Alby, but a fellow horse) and Joey's running away to the No Man's Land Scene had me in hysterics. I had never felt the need to just cry... at a movie. I couldn't watch, I couldn't breathe. I couldn't sleep after the movie was over and I'd been home for a couple of hours. The last 45 minutes is not for the faint of heart. Bleeding hearts don't stand a chance. My best friend cried through the whole film. As did my mother.

While the war scenes are not as graphic as Saving Private Ryan, the violence towards animals are graphic. The violence towards humans is not near a dramatic as that of Schindler's List, but the horrors that the horses of WW1 faced are. Animal lovers in general, and horse enthusiasts in particular, will have many problems watching this movie for that reason. Horses are brutalized by the German soldiers, and are killed in a faulty ambush by the British.

Overall, this is Spielberg's finest piece to date. He very rarely takes a step backwards, and each serious piece is just a training run for the next big piece. That War Horse did not get the Golden Globe is a travesty. This is a must see for all movie goers.

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