Thursday, January 12, 2012

War Horse (2011)

This is an emotional, feel good family flick, made to pull at heartstrings. The story about a bond between a horse and a boy, starts out taking place in the British countryside, just prior to World War I. The bond between the horse and a boy named Albert Narrcott (Jeremy Irvine) starts out right at the very beginning of the film when he witnesses the horse being born on a neighboring farm. A few years later, The horse comes to auction. Albert's father, Ted (Peter Mullan) purchases the horse at the auction for far more than what he can afford. Ted, a well meaning drunkard sees something in the horse that no one else sees. Ted's intention of using the horse to plow his farm makes him the town laughing stock. Ted brings the horse home much to the dismay of his wife, Rose (Emma Watson.) Rose is worried that the horse will never learn how to work a plow, and demands that the horse be returned. Albert steps in and is steadfast that he can train the horse to plow the field; mother yields to her son.  The landlord of the farm shows up and threatens to take the land away if Ted cannot produce a crop. Albert then proceeds to raise the horse (naming him Joey), teaching him to come when whistled for (important part of the story) and eventually teaches him how to take to the plow. Together Albert and Joey prove everybody wrong when they plow the field, saving it from being repossessed by the landlord.

World War I breaks out, and the horse is sold by Ted to the British Army (as a lot of horses were in those days.) Albert is heartbroken when he loses his beloved horse, vowing that they will be reunited one day. The narrative of the story is then told through Joey's eyes, so to speak. Joey embarks on many adventures in the war, going to work  for both the British and German Armies, and even happens upon a French girl and her grandfather in the process. Meanwhile, Albert is now of age and has joined the British Army.  Joey becomes injured in the war and is rescued by a British and German Soldier who call a temporary truce to save him. The British Soldier takes Joey back to base to have his wounds cared for. One doesn't have to be a fortune teller to see what is going to happen regards to weather or not Albert and Joey will be reunited. 

This film is about 60 years too late for its time. Back in the 1940s, cinema was highly censored. Films depicting war were censored so as to not "frighten the masses" to true nature of the horrors of war. Steven Spielberg has seemed to take a page right out of a John Ford movie when he directed this movie.  The scenes on the farm in the British countryside almost appear as though they were filmed on a set, like films were made in the Golden Era. The score emphasizes on happy, feel good sounds of birds singing in the air, tied in with music meant to tug on one's emotions. When the The sequences of the Battle of Somme come, it is late in the film and they barely touch on the brutality of that actual event.

When Spielberg directed "Saving Private Ryan" (1998) he was not bound by the censorship laws of yesteryear's. That film depicted how brutally ugly war can be and the battle sequences held no punches on the the blood and guts. “War Horse” seems to hide that WWI was a brutally ugly war, choosing instead to make the audience feel happy when in fact war should have the opposite effect.  Horses WERE in fact used in WWI, but I doubt if there was "feel good" story behind any of them.

While everyone likes to be inspired, which this film does by tugging at heartstrings, today’s society is not living with blinders on like Joey the War Horse. Today's audience is not naive to the real horrors of war as Hollywood of the 1940s thought they were back then.  Spielberg chose to take the safe route of making the audience feel good, instead of showing them what the real WWI was like.

Im shocked that his picture is getting so much Oscar buzz. The acting is good, and the well cast.  I will give Spielberg and his crew credit for cinematography, art direction, and musical score. But best picture? Maybe if you put this film a time machine and ship it back to 1945...

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