While the title indicates that this is a war movie, it is much deeper than that. It is a film about courage, friendship, and loyalty among other concepts.
Albert (Jeremy Irvine) is a young British man helping his parents with their farm. One day while in the fields he witnesses the birth of a thoroughbred horse and becomes enamored as he watches it grow. Later on Albert’s father, Ted (Peter Mullan), gets caught up in a competition with his landlord at an auction and winds up buying the horse. Rose (Emily Watson), Albert’s mother, is extremely upset since Ted was supposed to buy a plow horse, and believes that this could cost them the farm. Albert believes in the horse that he names Joey and promises to train him. Joey eventually does learn to plow but torrential rains ruin the crops and Ted is forced to sell Joey to the military as World War I gets underway.
The rest of the film follows Joey as he moves through the war. First, Joey is assigned to Captain Nicholls (Tom Hiddleston) who is deployed to France. After a battle, Joey ends up with the Germans and pulls an ambulance driven by two brothers. From there, he winds up on a farm with Emilie (Celine Buckens), a young French girl, and her grandfather. Joey is again captured by the German military where he spends years, longer than many other war horses, helping to pull heavy artillery. Meanwhile, once Albert is of age, he enlists in the military in hopes of finding Joey. As the story concludes many people from Joey’s past come together to set the stage for his future.
This four-disc combo pack offers the film on a Blu-ray disc. The video is presented with a 1080p/MPEG-4 AVC encoded transfer displayed at 2.40:1 and the audio is available in a 7.1 DTS-HD MA track. A great scene to show off the A/V qualities is the British attack on a German encampment. The British soldiers are hiding in field of golden wheat. Specks or grain can be seen floating in the wind. There’s great depth evident in the scene as the soldiers ride in a wide formation. The horses hooves thunder as they run with reinforcement from the subwoofer. The bullets whiz, by and John Williams’ score swells in the surrounds. The film’s color palette uses strong earth tones throughout. The video shows off very fine detail and textures. The soundtrack has good directionality and imaging.
Accompanying the film is the extra “War Horse: The Journey Home” which is a unique 20-minute roundtable discussion with director Steven Spielberg, the production crew, and some of the cast. It is an interesting interaction, and each person provides thoughtful insights from their viewpoint. Disc one also offers “An Extra’s Point of View”, a behind-the-scenes look from the vantage point of an extra on set.
Disc two is also a Blu-ray disc and contains exclusive bonus material. “A Filmmaking Journey” is a comprehensive featurette on the making of the film, from concept to completion. “Editing and Scoring” focuses on these elements and includes interviews with Spielberg, editor Michael Kahn, and composer John Williams. “The Sounds of War Horse” highlights the sound design with details provided by the sound designer Gary Rydstrom. Lastly, “Through the Producer’s Lens” offers the perspective of producer Kathleen Kennedy and she shares photos she took during filming. Disc three is a DVD of the film with the extra “War Horse: The Look,” which spotlights the locations, costumes, sets, and design of the film with interviews of the cast and crew. Disc four is a digital copy of the film.
I enjoyed this film but have mixed feelings about it. It is a little too long and boring at times. However, the cinematography is awe inspiring. At one moment, it is breathtakingly gorgeous and the next incredibly bleak. Spielberg captures the backdrop of war in a way that doesn’t detract from the story but establishes a solid foundation for how many of the characters behave. He also illustrates how dark and horrible war is yet shows that beauty can still exist.
Seeing how the horse impacts each character is one of the best parts of the film. The best and worst are brought out in each of them along with their humanity or lack thereof. Since the horse encounters so many characters, there is little background or much information provided on each one yet even in the little time spent with them, the viewer gets an understanding of who they are and what motivates them. There is a scene where a British solder and a German soldier are working together to save Joey; this is my favorite moment of the film. It captures one of the hardest and most senseless aspects of war: people killing people who may share the same values, similar lives, and could even be friends in different circumstances, yet they are trying to kill each other for the sake of their country.
I may not always be a fan of Spielberg’s films, but I am a big fan of his. His passion for the medium is palpable; I was more interested in watching him talk about War Horse at times rather than watching it. All of the featurettes on the making of the film enhances my overall pleasure of it. War Horse is worth watching, but I don’t think it is worthy of all of the award nominations it received. I think that had more to do with it being a Spielberg film instead of it being a phenomenal film.