Be Brave, Be Brave
4/5 popcorn buckets
PG-13: Intense sequences of war violence
Release Date: December 25, 2011
Director: Steven Spielberg
Writers: Lee Hall, Richard Curtis, novel by Michael Morpurgo
Cast: Emily Watson, Peter Mullan, Jeremy Irvine, Tom Hiddleston, David Thewlis, Benedict Cumberbatch
SYNOPSIS: At the onset of the First World War, a man sells and enlisted a horse into the British army to save his farm, breaking the heart of his son and wife. As the war rages on, the horse Joey works for both the British and German armies, encountering many soldiers and families ravaged by the wheels of war.
REVIEW: Steven Spielberg, acclaimed director of Schindler's List, Saving Private Ryan, and Jaws, brings to the silver screen a story of a horse. Based on the 1982 novel by Michael Morpurgo and the instantly successful Nick Stafford play that followed, screenwriters Lee Hall (Billy Elliot) and Richard Curtis (Love Actually, Notting Hill) adaptWar Horse into an epic film centered around the English countryside, the First World War, a young man and a horse named Joey.
Starting as a just born fold, a thoroughbred horse comes of age and readied for auction. Drunkard and war vet Ted Narracott (Peter Mullan, Braveheart) goes to market in search of a strong plow horse, but fancies the thoroughbred so much that he spends more than he had to buy the horse. Facing the loss of his farm and the wrath of his wife Rose (Emily Watson, Angela's Ashes), Ted tasks his son Albert (Jeremy Irvine, Life Bites) to break in the untested but feisty steed. When the landowner Lyons (David Thewlis, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 2) comes to collect the farm's rent, he gives the Narracott family enough time to prove that the horse can actually plow the lower fields and prepare for planting. All the while, Albert and Joey, the name he gives to the horse, become fast and close friends.
When the Narracott family faces more bad luck, Ted is forced to sell the animal into the service of an British cavalry captain Nicholls (Tom Hiddleston, Thor) at the start of the Great War in order to play the rent and save the farm for another season. Upon their departure, Albert and Rose are furious at the way Ted handled himself, but understood why he make the decision he did. From that point forward, Joey plays a central role to a cavalcade of officers and soldiers on both sides of the war, as well as others along the way.
From veterans like Emily Watson and Peter Mullan to the up and comers like Jeremy Irvine and David Kross, a fine cast is assembled to bring War Horse to life. The formerly mischievous and currently dashing and proper Tom Hiddleston brings a quiet aplomb to his role as Captain Nicholls, even as he and Joey take on Benedict Cumberbatch's (Atonement) competitive and cocky Major Stewart and his massive black horse. But through all of the impressive acting, Joey himself is the center of the story and deserves all the attention. Fiery and rebellious, but loyal and fearless, the animal makes the movie the epic it deserves to be - just like the puppetry that dazzles on stage in Manhattan, Toronto and London.
War Horse is simply a magnificent beast. Joey is strong and true through every landscape, from the lush rolling green fields of the British countryside, filled with rocks and harsh planting fields, to the golden hues of the tall dry grasses prior the war's first battle, to the overcast barbed wire laden cratered fields of battle. With strong silhouettes and colors, Spielberg adds motion and emotion to the film's palette. At times, the film looks as if it is painted and set on a play stage. Other times its scope is reminiscent of classic films like Gone With The Wind. If you close your eyes for a moment and enjoy the scores of longtime colleague and composer John Williams, the symphony will lift your spirits and break your heart in equal measure. Open your eyes, add in the breathtaking scenery and ageless tale of faith and perseverance, and you have a superior film in the long tradition of Spielberg.
I was distracted by the altered lighting of some of the re-shoots scenes edited into the originally shot film, but only for a moment. And the speech that Major Stewart gives his cavalry before charging into battle against the Germans seems to carry more weight in the trailer than it does in the final film.
Spielberg is respectful of both the life and death that the subject matter in War Horsetouches on. Interspersed in the story's serious and dramatic tones are little gems of humor and good well that keep the 146 minute film fresh, entertaining and engrossing. Laughs snuck out unexpectedly, tears fell down my cheek, and I yearned for the innocence and faith of a boy and wept for the innocence lost of that boy as he becomes a man hardened on the fields of war.
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