Being a guy, it’s hard to admit this, but I’ve actually cried two times while watching movies. The first time was with the movie Spirited Away. I lose it when Sen guesses that Haku was the spirit of the river who saved her as a child. And the second time was with this movie, War Horse. It really impacted me on a personal level. It truly is a beautiful film.
When Oscar season rolled around last year, a lot of people rolled their eyes at War Horse's nomination for Best Picture. Nobody thought it would win. Many even found it to be one of Spielberg’s lesser films, but I beg to differ. Sure, it’s not Schindler’s List, but really, what is? What this film has going for it is sheer beauty, and I can’t think of any other film in recent memory where just looking at some of these shots made me cry. I was really touched by this film. It hit me on so many levels.
The movie is primarily about a boy and his horse. Back in the first World War, horses were regularly taken from their owners to be used in warfare. But WWI was like no other war before it, and the purposes of horses in combat changed. As weapons became more lethal, the idea of simply riding a horse into battle became antiquated, and even romanticized in some regards (a scene in which one of the soldiers lovingly draws a picture of the horse as if he was sketching his girlfriend is evidence of that). It reached the point where horses weren’t to be ridden in war anymore but instead used as work animals, and many of the tears in this film are mined off that idea. There’s nothing sadder than seeing a beautiful horse with a damaged leg being forced to drag a tank up a hill. Nothing at all.
Joey, the horse in question, starts off with his young trainer, Albert (Jeremy Irvine), on a farm. Albert raises Joey from being a stubborn beast into a well-trained animal, so you know the tear-works are going to be cranked when Joey is taken from his master. And the tears do come. They come a lot. It’s been argued that Spielberg tugs on the heart strings a bit too much with this film, making it mawkish and sappy, and I won’t argue with that. It is quite maudlin. But Spielberg does such a good job at it that I can’t fault him for cranking it up to the extreme here. By the end of the movie, when the scene fades out from a luscious red sky to black, I can’t help it. I have to whip out the Kleenex. No other film, not even my favorites, have gotten that kind of reaction out of me, so War Horse is something special, mawkishness or not.
The only real problem I have with this film is something that’s just a pet peeve of mine. All the characters speak English, and soldiers in Germany should not speak English. Subtitles would have been appreciated over their native tongue here. Aside from that, War Horse is a brilliant film. It’s definitely one of Spielberg’s best, and it’s the most beautiful film of last year. Both dudes and dudettes should prepare to tear up if you plan to watch this film.
Okay, so here’s how not to do special features. It’s not that that aren’t a lot of special features here, because there are. But none of them add anything to the film and most of them take away from it, so that’s not good. On disc one there’s “War Horse: The Journey Home,” which is just a bunch of people sitting around a table and talking about the film. But here’s the thing, they’re not really saying anything worthwhile or interesting. They’re just, well, talking. It adds nothing to the film. “An Extra’s Point of View” reveals that pretty much the whole cast was British. This means that Brits were even playing the roles of German soldiers, which is infuriating to no end. Please keep it authentic, Mr. Spielberg. You’re better than that.
Disc two is nothing but special features, none of them really special. “A Filmmaking Journey” is too long and it’s boring. It’s basically just Steven Spielberg dissecting every major moment of the film. Yawn. “Editing and Scoring” is what it sounds like and nothing more, and so is “The Sounds of War Horse.” We learn that a lot of work went into making the sound of a horse snorting authentic. Fascinating. “Through the Producer’s Lens” is some pictures that don’t do the majesty of the film justice. The third disc has only one special feature on it, called “War Horse: The Look.” In it, we learn about different locations and other scenes from the film. Really, there’s nothing interesting here, either. A commentary would have been preferred. These special features are awful.