From the horse’s mouth to Spielberg’s ear |

From the horse’s mouth to Spielberg’s ear


Steven Spielberg’s “War Horse” sentimentalizes the effect one remarkable animal has upon many distressed humans. The disconnect arises from presenting this fairytale as though it was grounded in reality. The story is set during the early 20th century, a period marked by classism that provides a foundation for numerous fascinating BBC dramas, but for Spielberg it’s an opportunity to present a boy-meets-horse romance against the backdrop of war.

With nothing left to prove, 65-year-old Spielberg has likely made a movie for himself, a place to revisit the “wholesome” values promoted in films of his childhood. Drawn from a children’s novel by Michael Morpurgo, the story’s early scenes cater to a 10-year-old’s emotional comprehension. Then World War I breaks out, and the film moves from one scene of carnage to the next.

Events unfold through the eyes of Joey, a horse whose adventures place him in constant peril and test the people around him. Joey is a 2-year-old when purchased by a farmer in Devon, England. The farmer’s rocky land requires a plow horse, but Ted Narracott (Peter Mullan) over imbibes, and instead acquires a “fancy horse,” ill-suited to the plow. Ted’s son Albert (Jeremy Irvine), is immediately smitten by the leggy animal that he treats gently and trains to come when called. With regret he teaches Joey to plow his father’s field, but weather ruins their crops, and in need of money to keep his farm, Ted sells Joey to the cavalry.

From this point forward, the film focuses on Joey’s fading and rising fortunes as he is passed between the Brits, Germans and French. Each change of stewardship brings new opportunities for Joey’s noble spirit and precocious intelligence to uplift his caregivers.

However, the ever-changing cast of characters prevents the film from defining anyone beyond their relationship with Joey.

Meanwhile, Albert has become a soldier, and hopes to be reunited with his beloved horse. His parallel story provides another perspective on the war, but ultimately is stripped of the emotional heft reserved for Joey’s tale.

The 21⁄2-hour film is a romantic drama in three acts – mainly dwelling in Act 2 where Joey and Albert endure many tragedies before finding their way back to one another.

The war scenes are expertly recreated, but are secondary to Spielberg’s point, lest we forget that Joey is a better fellow than his human counterparts. Gee whiz, Steven. I think we got it.

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