It’s amazing that one horse’s journey can connect the lives of so many people without them knowing it. Steven Spielberg’s latest World War I epic, War Horse, based on the 1982 children’s novel by Michael Morpurgo that was recently adapted into a Tony Award-winning stage play earlier this year, doesn’t need an in depth explanation, the title pretty much speaks for itself, yet it is so deceiving.
As aforementioned, we follow a horse named Joey from the day he was born to the raging fires of World War I. He is the horse that binds these stories together yet no one knows it. Throughout the movie Joey becomes more than just a War Horse, he becomes a sign of hope: for a family, a sick girl, and soldiers on both sides of the war.
I’ve always found adapting novels has one of the most difficult tasks for any screenwriter. Translating text to a movie is never easy, because readers and those familiar with the novel always look at the movie adaptation through a microscope. That being said Lee Hall and Richard Curtis were able to pen something magnificently and when combined with a score from John Williams, War Horse truly feels like the novel has come to life.
The cinematography is absolutely breathtaking. With every sweeping side shot of the countryside, you can’t help but image the sun in your face or the breeze passing by you. Then it all transitions to the darkness of war. The smoke, the mud, and the ominous cold haze creep through the screen like a thief in the night. But as life-like as the battle trenches were in War Horse, the countryside scenes were too good to be true.
The heart of War Horse is Joey’s ability to make human connections with every character in the story, he brings out the best qualities with everyone that acts has his care taker. It starts out with a boy named Albert, whose farm is about to be repossessed by a villainous landlord. Albert’s motivation and never-quit attitude is the key to his family’s survival, and it is because of that single element, he and Joey were able to save the farm. However to keep the movie going forward, there also needed to be elements where our protagonististic steed needed to be thrust into a situation out of his control.
For instance rain devastates the farm, and Albert’s father is forced to sell Joey to the military. Distraught Albert will do anything to be with him, even if that means signing up for the military three years before he is actually allowed to. Of course Captain Nicholls calms him down and assures him that if he can, he will return Joey to Albert. But before Joey can enter into battle, he needs to be broken down, and Nicholls is chanelleged by his commanding officer and his equally beautiful horse Tophorn. Days later they lead the charge into a German base camp where they are killed and two young German soldiers become the horses’ caretakers.
But our new weary caretakers escape with the horses and are discovered to be hiding out in a near by windmill, they are killed, and Joey & Tophorn are left behind. A young but sick girl and her overprotective grandfather discover them. But Joey and Tophorn are repossessed by the German army, and are forced to work by pulling massive tanks and other machinery. Joey continues to persist in hopes that he can be reunited with his beloved owner Albert.
The height of War Horse lies at the moment when Joey escapes from the trenches of war. Leaping over tanks, bursting through the blazes of war, and galloping through barb wire, Joey gets caught and is seemingly defeated. However, Joey is caught in between the British and German battle lines. And for one single moment the two sides are united to free a horse.
Amidst all the pain and travesty of war, War Horse is about Joey’s journey home and Albert’s love for his horse and the lengths he goes through to be reunited with him. Jeremy Irvine gives quite a performance in his first feature length film. Albeit it was a bit short of brilliance, it was a good one given that it was not only his first movie, it was his first Steven Spielberg movie. War is always a difficult subject for everyone, it tears societies apart, but if there was symbol of hope, unity, and peace, it would be the War Horse. Such a magnificent horse that pulls us together for a common good.