Director: Steven Spielberg
Rated: PG-13, Runtime: 146 mins.
Stars: Jeremy Irvine and Emily Watson
This must be said first: Do not take your horsie-loving 8-year-old to see War Horse at a kiddie matinee. Beautiful, sweeping and drenched in honest sentiment, Steven Spielberg’s epic story of a farm horse pressed into service during World War I is at the same time brutal, bloody and tragic in ways that could well send said 8-year-old cowering under the theater seats, sticky floor and all.
I don’t envy the poor marketing people at DreamWorks, who were charged with telling the public just what kind of movie War Horse is. Even as a viewer, I found myself at first wishing Spielberg had gone all-in with a lovely, pastoral story of a boy and his horse, or with a fiercely realized blood-and-dust war film. Had he made that choice, however, War Horse would not be nearly as powerful a work as it is, and so we just have to accept the fact that we must take or leave War Horse as a profoundly affecting amalgam of Black Beauty, Lassie Come Home, How Green Was My Valley, Saving Private Ryan and Paths of Glory. Take it or leave it, but I strongly suggest you give it a chance.
We meet the titular horse on the day he is born, on a hillside in the north of England. From the day he witnesses its first wobbling steps, young Albert (Jeremy Irvine) stakes an emotional claim on the colt — and the happiest day of his life comes when his father (Peter Mullan) buys the horse to work on the family farm. Trouble is, this horse is a thoroughbred, not a workhorse, and is utterly unsuited to farm chores (although, in good movie horse tradition, the critter proves his grit by giving it the old college try).