I have wanted to see War Horse as soon as I saw its behind the scenes piece on HBO in 2011. However, when I missed it on cinema and got it on video, it took a while for me to finally commit and see it after watching the first five minutes of the film and getting teary eyed already. As frequent readers of this blog would know, I cry in any movie featuring animals and this is the same reason I have yet to see We Bought a Zoo, Mr. Poppers’ Penguins and A Dolphin Tale and it took me three years to see Hachiko. Anywhow, now the deed is done, I am glad that I finally got to sit through this inspiring and heartwarming tale of a young boy and his horse amid the turbulent times of World War I.
From the moment Albert Narracott (Jeremy Irvine) first saw the colt Joey the day he was born, he knew that the horse was meant to be his. And when his father returns from the auction one day after purchasing the young thoroughbred for a much higher price than the working horse they intended to buy for their farm, he vows to care for the horse, raise him and train him to do all the things that a farm horse would do. From the onset, they share a unique bond, Albie’s patience is rewarded by Joey’s obedience and his love was rewarded by the horse’s loyalty. But when hard times fall on the family and war is declared in Europe, Albie’s father is forced to sell his beloved horse to the military. Albie tries to enlist but is rejected by the officers because of his youth but the farm boy vows to follow Joey into war, and be with him again after it is all over.
From the first minute, War Horse was a masterpiece. The cinematography and the scoring hinted at an epic and even with limited dialogue, eye contact and body language between Albie and Joey, their bond easily communicates to the audience. Jeremy Irvine, being a relatively new film actor at the time, was very subtle in his role, but was very sincere and earnest in his portrayal that his character’s innocence and love for his animal affects the audience in an emotional level. On the other hand, the horse who played Joey was a magnificent creature not just because the animal was a beauty but because he had so much personality. When he stepped up to sacrifice himself in dragging the heavy artillery, I was crying as his footsteps almost buckled from the weight.
War Horse is a bit long as it spans Joey’s experiences during the war (which took four years). It chronicles his journeys, his triumphs and defeats and is a catalogue of his uniqueness, compassion and resourcefulness that made his adventure as a solider all the more poignant. It is not one dimensional as the story also tackles his life away from Albie, and Albie apart from his beloved Joey.
War Horse is an epic story that reaches out to the viewers on a cellular level. It is inspiring and it carries a message of hope that stays with the audience even after the credits have rolled. It is an excellent piece of cinema adapted from a children’s book written by Michael Morpugo three decades ago. It is a story whose formula has been used countless times on dogs, cats, dolphins, whales, apes and penguins but still, War Horse manages to make it an all new experience again that audiences will appreciate on a different scale. There is a reason why Spielberg is one of Hollywood’s most respected directors and weaving magic like this is on the big screen is one of the reasons why it is so.