by Karissa Barrows, Editor
Albert Narracott (Irvine) and Joey
When you think “horse movie”, what do you think of? Black Beauty? Seabiscuit? Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron? Typically, I usually think some movie that’s going to make me cry because of shameless horse-killing, the overplayed horse-separated-from-loved-owner-and-later-reunited storyline proven to elicit tears, or some cowboy movie. War Horse, Steven Spielberg’s newest film, uses those first two, mixed with a little Seabiscuit-style “miracle horse” aspect, and a little bit of storytelling I thought slightly reminiscent of Tarantino – and makes for a huge success.
The story begins with a first five minutes completely devoid of any significant dialogue, detailing the birth of the war horse, later named Joey, and a boy named Albert “Albie” Narracott (Jeremy Irvine – Now Is Good, Great Expectations) watching and attempting to bond with the young colt, all in the vast Dartmoor, Devonshire countryside. While I could have done without these first minutes, which immediately gave me a sour, “this is going to be one of those stupid preteen girl movies” taste in my mouth, it picked up quickly with the appearance of Peter Mullan (Braveheart, Trainspotting, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part I) as Albie’s father, Ted, and Emily Watson (The Boxer, Red Dragon, The Life and Death of Peter Sellers) as Albie’s mother, Rose. It picked up even more with strong appearances by David Thewlis (Harry Potter series, Kingdom of Heaven, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas) and Detective Holmes himself, Benedict Cumberbatch (Sherlock (BBC), Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, the upcoming Star Trek sequel).
Nobody told me pedostaches weren’t in style anymore!
You dare stand up to Remus Lupin? Don’t you know what I am??
After Ted Narracott foolishly spends more than he has to get the wild thoroughbred Joey simply to outdo his landlord, Lyons (Thewlis), Albie, delighted that his father has unknowingly purchased his dream horse, takes it upon himself to train Joey into a plowing horse so as to placate his mother and save the farm from Lyons. In front of a crowd of what seems to be the entire village of Dartmoor, Albie and Joey manage, thanks to a surprise rainstorm, to plow the entire field thought to be dead, rocky soil. Ted and Rose plant an entire turnip crop, which promises to bring in the money necessary to pay the rent debt to Lyons, until another surprise rainstorm, this more of a torrential, flooding downpour, uproots the entire crop early and renders them helpless. As World War I begins, Ted, in a last-ditch effort of desperation, takes Joey unbeknownst to Albie and sells him to an English captain for the entire debt owed. Albie shows up a moment too late and begs to go with Joey into war, but being just shy of the required age of 19 is not allowed. The captain, Nicholls (Tom Hiddleston – Thor, Midnight in Paris, The Avengers), is gentle and kind in asking Albie to simply lease Joey to him, and promising to return him to Albie as soon as he is able.
As the story moves on, Joey somehow makes his way from impossible situation to impossible situation, making surprising friends along the way, including a terminally ill little girl Emilie (brilliantly played by Celine Buckens in her introductory role) and her grandfather (Niels Arestrup, an established French actor with more than 40 years of film behind him), eventually becoming a symbol of hope to English forces after surviving a battle in No Man’s Land. The seemingly seamless, yet completely disjointed movement from scenario to scenario is what reminded me somewhat of Quentin Tarantino’s style, a la Inglourious Basterds. That’s probably an opinion only I will have, though. But maybe not.
Riding horses will break every bone in my body? Pfft.
While definitely a war drama, the film is not without its heartwarming moments and comedic relief. Albie’s best friend, Andrew “Drew” Easton (Matt Milne – Downton Abbey, Wrath of the Titans), provides much of the latter with his unassuming naïveté and signature, infectious, goofy smile. Even another horse befriended by Joey, named Topthorn, helps to provide some of the more humorous moments in the film, as well as those more heartwarming and heartwrenching. Newcomer Bruckens as Emilie captures the hearts of all those around her (except the German soldiers) in her determination, innocence, intelligence, and unselfish character, and Arestrup as her grandfather, with his simple logic, quick wit, and hidden grit, makes us all wish we had him to look out for us in a time of war. (Click here to see a clip of Emilie and her grandfather discussing bravery.) The German horse trainer was surprisingly kind in the face of his more aggressive and uncaring officers, trying to save Topthorn from certain death and telling Joey to run for his life as the English advanced.
One of my favorite moments from the film was the scene in No Man’s Land, where a British soldier (Toby Kebbell – RockNRolla, The Conspirator, Wrath of the Titans) and a German soldier (Hinnerk Schönemann, well established in German cinema) meet in the middle of No Man’s Land to free Joey from a tangled mass of barbed wire. Upon requesting more wire cutters, the Germans toss at least five sets from behind their barricade without so much as a word. When Joey is finally free, Joey is awarded to the British soldier on a coin toss. Upon losing the toss for Joey, the German soldier says with a sigh, looking down at the coin, “That is the face of my Führer. He does not look happy with me.”
Crossing No-Man’s-Land to save Joey
Special Features and Specs
The story is fantastic and well worth the purchase of this Blu-ray/DVD/digital copy combo. Along with the three formats of the movie, there is also a separate Blu-ray disc for special features. They include:
- War Horse: The Journey Home – basically a “making of” featurette.
- An Extra’s Point of View – self-explanatory perspective of shooting the film from background characters. I especially loved this, as anything most people would ever be in a movie like this is an extra.
- A Filmmaking Journey – sort of a “making of” featurette, but from Steven Spielberg’s point of view.
- Editing & Scoring – Steven Spielberg, Editor Michael Kahn, and composer John Williams detail film editing and scoring for War Horse, as well as talking about their forty-year collaboration.
- The Sounds of War Horse – Discussion of sound design by Gary Rydstrom, the film’s sound designer.
- Through the Producer’s Lens – Producer Kathleen Kennedy sharing her personal pictures from filming.
The DVD copy has the film, plus War Horse: The Look, a bonus featurette with the film’s creative team. The digital copy contains only the film. Tech specs for the film are as follows:
- Blu-ray feature film: 1080p HD widescreen (2.40:1)
~ Audio: English 7.1 DTS-HD MA (48 kHz/24-bit); French 7.1 DTS-HD HR;
Spanish 5.1 Dolby digital surround sound
~ Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish
- DVD feature film: Widescreen 2.40:1, enhanced for 16×9 televisions
~ Audio: English, French, Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital, English RNIB 2.0 Dolby
~ Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish (applies to film content only)
Overall, this is a delightful film and Spielberg and his team did a great job of turning a children’s book into an adult’s movie. It’s refreshing to have a movie starring an animal that doesn’t make the adult viewer embarrassed to have watched without a child present, because I do love movies like that even though they get me all emotional. I would highly recommend the movie (other than the first five minutes or so) to anyone who enjoys historical/war films (but can handle the artistic license), feel-good films, horses, or Benedict Cumberbatch. The only thing the movie was missing was a little David Tennant. For shame, Spielberg. Anybody else would probably still enjoy the movie, but it is largely story and not as much action, if you prefer one over the other. I applaud Spielberg’s team’s genius in casting both well-established actors and brilliant newcomers, thereby making the story and the horses the main focus, rather than the human element. The horses were amazing as well, with more personality than I’ve ever seen out of any horse in any film. Huge kudos to the equine crew. As far as buying this particular copy? Totally worth it. Anything that gives me the ability to watch on Blu-ray, DVD, or my iPhone/iPad/iPod/iWhatever without doing some serious work on my part is worth the money in my opinion.
Dogs as a boy’s best friend my ass.
And now the highly anticipated overall rating…
ComicsOnline gives War Horse a solid 4 out of 5 wire cutters.
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