Sometimes the movies remind us not to be too clever or sophisticated about what it all means. For example, love and devotion – sometimes devotion well beyond reason – are powerful forces in the human experience. That simple message drives “War Horse,” the Steven Spielberg movie that evokes tears and smiles.
It’s not the best movie of the year or Spielberg’s best effort, but it is stirring when it needs to be, even if everything doesn’t quite hang together. Joey is one amazing horse, pulling off astounding feats and then suffering one cruelty after another when war comes. At every turn, someone – a farmer, his son, the cavalry officer who needs a mount, a German soldier, a French farmer – sees something special in Joey, and he carries and connects their stories.
The movie is beautifully shot – and worth seeing just for the score by John Williams – but what is portrayed is often brutal and painful. It is hard to overstate the horrors of the trenches of France during World War I.
At root, this is about a young man and his horse, and Jeremy Irvine is OK as that young man. It’s the rest of cast, particularly Emily Watson as the mother and Niels Arestrup as the French farmer, that fills things out very nicely. It was nice to see Arestrup play a kindly grandfather in this. He was the heavy – seriously a heavy – in “A Prophet” a couple of years ago, a movie that was violent and beautiful in very different ways.
Take the kids, but maybe not the little ones. There’s no rough language, but people die, and our horse Joey is always sacrificing himself for the sake of another – again, devotion beyond reason – and he goes through a lot.