War Horse (2011) – A Visually Spectacular Saga
Steven Spielberg, the man who is capacious enough riding both horses- the mass entertainers and the tales from his heart- with ease, has listened to the beats of his heart for War Horse. Set in 1914 England, teen Albert Narracott witnesses the birth of a Bay Thoroughbred (A horse breed better known for Racing). The boy is drawn to the colt instantly. He is glad when his dad Ted brings him home, bidding him in an auction, against his Landlord. The boy offers to bring up the pony – names him Joey- worth for working in the fields.
When the deadline for paying back the debts grips him tight he opts for selling the horse to the British Cavalry. The film travels along with Joey and the circumstances he encounters. All through his way he rides young and kind Captain James Nicholls on the war front. Joey gets attached with a fellow military horse Topthorn. Losing his rider to the bullet Joey and is captured by the Germans. Joey changes hands, spends his days with new owners with new names christened by them. On the war front Albie temporarily loses his sight due to gas attack. Finally Joey reunites with Albert ride home.
The plot of the movie might give you a yet-another-feel-good-movie feel and might even wonder what special it would have. Certainly ‘Saving Private Ryan’ (1998), which fetched Steve his second Oscar, would cross your mind. But beware; the only commonality that they share is both come under ‘War film’ sub genre. Steve in War Horse doesn’t want to have the primary focus on war but shifts it entirely over the horse. The war merely serves as a back drop. The entire film follows up close, the horse and the space for every character is developed through the relationship they hold with the horse.
Throughout the film I was strongly reminded of Robert Bresson’s “Au Hasard Balthazar (1966)”. The French classic traces the miserable life of a donkey named Balthazar. However unlike the poor Balthazar, Joey in ‘War Horse’ never encounters hardship in his life. He on the contrary is magically able to transform everyone, with their goodness elicited at their best, to care for Joey. The fortunate horse serves as a reason of peace, though transient, everywhere he goes. Even on the war front amid raining bullets and blasting canons, trapped inside the entwined barb wire, he stands as a reason for two soldiers from each side to develop friendship. While reading this or at least or while watching the film, one might certainly feel why should everyone develop a soft corner for the horse at first sight, irrespective of their position or status. Doesn’t it sound a bit childish? Yes, it does and so should it be.
The movie is developed from Michael Morpurgo‘s 1982 novel of the same name, one of the better known British writer well known for Children’s novels. Lee Hall and Ravel Guest wrote the screenplay for the film. Ever since Schindler’s List (1993) Steve worked with cinematographer Janusz Kamiński. In tune with the vision of the director Janusz’s lens always pivots around the horse and in the war field it almost clings to his galloping legs.
The horse moving between the trenches in the war fields with blazing speed is artistically captured. As the intention of the film is not on showing the goriness of the war, though the film is set on the war front for almost half of its screen time, doesn’t attempt once to show a death directly with graphic details as in Saving Private Ryan. The tonality of the entire picture is also different from Ryan’s altogether.
One might feel the film time is lengthy, making many of the common viewers feel the movie to be little slow. But the since the film takes ample time for establishing the relationship between the lead characters Joey and Albert, the viewer is comfortably able to connect himself with the movie till the end. This may not be an action entertainer, though has long war sequences, as Steve’s other commercial outings. Yet, this would never make you feel the 150 minutes you spent for it worthless.