There is one truly great scene in Steven Speilberg’s “War Horse.” The scene involves the hero horse escaping from torture minded German soldiers, racing through a field covered in barbed wire. The horse manages to break through much of the barbed wire but eventually is taken down and looks to be dying a horrible death wrapped in barbed wire.
As the sun comes up British and German soldiers from opposite ends of this World War 1 battlefield see something moving in the middle of the battlefield and assume it may be a wounded soldier. White flags go up from both sides and a sentry is dispatched from each.
For a moment a tenuous peace is forged as two enemy soldiers work together to free the horse from the barbed wire. The dialogue, the acting and director Steven Speilberg’s calm, observant style give this centerpiece scene in “War Horse” energy and excitement that is lacking in the rest of the film.
A Horse Named Joey
“War Horse” stars Jeremy Irvine as Albert, a farm boy with a loutish, drunken father (Peter Mullan) who brings home skinny horse more suited for racing than the plow horse he was supposed to purchase. Albert takes to the new horse and names it Joey.
When Albert’s father sobers enough to realize what he’s done he wants to shoot Joey. Albert and his mother (Emily Watson) manage to stop him at least long enough for Albert to try to teach Joey how to draw the plow over the rocky shoals of the family farmland.
Albert’s task becomes a spectacle as their landlord, Mr. Lyons (David Thewlis) brings a crowd to watch what he expects will be a major failure. The plowing scenes are a solid piece of cinema; rousing and sympathetic but they are merely killing time until the major plot kicks in.
Separated by War
The major plot is World War 1 and Peter’s father giving up Joey, against Albert’s wishes, to the military cause. Joey becomes the property of Captain Nicholls (Tom Hiddleston) who promises to return Joey to Albert after the war. Sadly, Captain Nicholls underestimates the toll of the war ahead.
Will Joey be able to find his way back to Albert? Will Albert join the cause and search for Joey? Can either survive the horrors of the First World War? Good questions all and each has the potential to be very moving and entertaining.
“War Horse” is filled with potential mostly unrealized. Steven Speilberg’s approach here is almost entirely homage with little of anything new or exciting. Individual scenes of “War Horse” capture Speilberg at his best but most of the film is a droning bore of tributes to War movies past.
Old School Meets New School
“War Horse” is the first film that Steven Speilberg edited digitally rather than with a traditional editing suite on the back of a flatbed truck. This move toward a more modern approach is somewhat ironic in that it is applied to one of the most old school movies of Speilberg’s long and illustrious career.
“War Horse” is certainly not a bad movie but it’s not a great movie either. The film will appeal to fans of old war movies as well as to fans of horse movies, a genre all its own. I recommend “War Horse” for the very particular group of fans I just mentioned; for everyone else “War Horse” shouldn’t be your first choice until it arrives on DVD in 2012.