This is one movie where I want a horse to win the Oscar for Best Actor. I caught a matinee showing on Christmas Day and did not expect to see anyone else in the cinema. I was very wrong. The theater was at least 85% full and since I arrived at the start time, I ended up in the front rows. I rapidly forgot about my seat location as this movie pulled me in from the first unsteady steps of Joey as a foal. I had to see this movie all the way through, calls of nature bedamned. This movie is this well crafted, even the quiet times when you learn a bit more about Albert, his father, and his father’s past; I was enthralled. I was also shocked and amazed and sad in this movie.
One sequence of scenes I think can be used to show the craftsmanship of this movie and it’s story. Albert’s father is in a terrible bind, rain has destroyed the turnip crop and the rent is due. Even though it was Joey and Albert who made that planting possible, Joey has to be sold to cover the rent. As Joey is being led away, a tearful Albert affixes to Joey’s bridle the pennant of his father’s unit in the Boer War. Capt. Nichols solemnly promises Albert he will bring Joey back.
Scene then shifts to the cavalry unit Nichols belongs to. Here we are treated in full glorious color how war was viewed as 300 men, in full service dress, atop horses charge to see who can snag the ring with their sword first. Next we see them in France and being briefed for an attack against a German field encampment.
We see this vast field of golden wheat that is ready to be harvested as the next scene. And then we see these green hats bob amidst the wheat and the flick of horse ears also. And as one man all the soldiers mount the horses and the order to attack is given. With swords drawn they charge out of the wheat field, across open ground, and then they are amidst the Germans just waking up and rushing to meet the attack. Swords flash, striking men down. Men atop horses charge through tents. And then we see Germans fleeing to the tree line with British cavalry close behind. Then we see the emplaced machine guns and as the Germans take cover the guns open fire. Machine gun bullets spit with lethality and rider-less horses plunge through the German lines. One of the horses is Joey with pennant still affixed to his tack, but no one in the saddle.
I watched the interview with Steven Spielberg about this movie. He said he was not looking for a project when he stumbled across this play called War Horse. That it just grabbed his attention. I am glad this story did. For fans of Tolkien and the Shire, you might want to watch this movie to get a better appreciation of what shaped Tolkien and his stories.