Yes, it’s a wonderful film, but I wish you had toned things down a bit. Although a few days have gone by since seeing War Horse on Christmas, I still get teary eyed thinking about the terrible suffering of Joey, that magnificent title animal sold to the cavalry in World War One. Thank you, though, for reminding us that war is hell, especially for horses.
I have to confess my worries upon hearing of your decision to direct a film treatment of Michael Morpurgo’s novel -- in which Joey narrates his own story -- even though an award-winning play based on the book has been quite successful. I shouldn’t have been concerned, for you picked a cinematographer who knows all the right camera tricks to show us battlefield horrors as well as human behavior at its best and worst. I realize Janusz Kaminski has worked with you before – and won two Oscars (Saving Private Ryan and Schindler’s List) for his efforts, but he really outdid himself with War Horse. There’s one particular scene that ends up on my list of “best camera shots ever.” You must know the one I’m talking about. It’s when Joey’s eye fills practically the entire screen with the image of a young girl entering the barn reflected there. Awesome!
And you had to be pleased with Lee Hall (Billy Elliot) and Richard Curtis (Love Actually) for giving you a screenplay filled with emotionally-charged scenes showing how much Albert (Jeremy Irvine), the British lad who trained Joey, cared for this beautiful horse, as well as the way various soldiers treated him as he made his dangerous way through those bloody European battlegrounds.
Cast members didn’t let you down either, did they? Young Irvine (TV’s Life Bites) earns our empathy right away with his sensitive behavior toward Joey despite his troubled father’s (Peter Mullan) sometimes misguided interference. Emily Watson (The Water Horse) simply couldn’t be better as the long-suffering wife and mother trying to keep things together during extremely hard-scrabble times. Celine Buckens, in her movie debut as a darling French youngster who hides Joey from German troops, simply captivated me. Niels Arestrup (A Prophet) as her loving grandfather also delivers a standout performance here.
So congratulations, Mr. Spielberg. However, don’t be surprised if you get a bill from me for all the tissues I’ve had to use watching War Horse and thinking about it afterwards. You can ask John Williams to pay half. As always, his background music adds to the emotional weight of what’s happening on screen. But you already knew that, right?
(Released by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures and rated “PG-13” for intense sequences of war violence.)
Review also posted at ReelTalk Movie Reviews.