More recently as Steven Spielberg has become more active as a producer, his directing credits are becoming less common.
In the past year he has produced the brillant Super 8 [Blu-ray
], one of my favorites, directed by JJ Abrams, the creator, writer and occasional director of Lost, and the recent Star trek. Super 8 is a great nostalgia piece evoking the early eighties, and an homage to Spielberg's earliest movies. Spielberg also produced Cowboys and Aliens, a somewhat weird meshing of two genres.
Now with War Horse Spielberg directs, and shows his masterful touches throughout. In fact, if you are like me you can see traces of many great movies of the past. The early portions of the movies showing English countryside scenes, and the musical soundtrack of John Williams are reminiscent of John Ford's The Quiet Man. Trench warfare scenes are reminiscent of that all time classic All Quiet on the Western Front. Incidents relating to deserting soldiers are thematically reminiscent of Kubrick's Paths of Glory.
War, as bad as it is, somehow seems worse when an innocent animal is involved, which ultimately makes Warhorse the ultimate anti war polemic. And we have a love story between a young boy Albert, and a horse named Joey. As the movie begins we see the Joey being born, as the boy watches.
Later Albert's alcoholic father instead of buying a proper plough horse, foolishly pits himself agaainst his own landlord in bidding for the flash horse Joey, instead of a huge Clydesdale, making his tenancy precarious, and imperiling his families limited fortunes. Joey faces many trials and tribulations adjusting to the plough. The tight knit community wonders, as does the family, about the consequences of the father's foolishness. Here we have a wonderful perforamnce from Emily Watson as the mother, cruelly snubbed during award season.
When the war happens the father impulsively sells the horse to the military, despite Albert's protests. Albert, understandably distressed, too young to join the military, vows to be reunited with Joey. Meanwhile Joey goes to the front, and we have a poignant scene with his new owner. He and another horse escape the war briefly, and are adopted by a teenage girl. It's not long before the war interferes again, and Joey has a series of adventures. My favorite scene is when he gets trapped in No Mans land, and both sides have to cooperate to free him. I loved the wire clippers flying scene. I also loved the sub story about the two young German brothers, and the parallel structure about how the British deal with a similar situation.
Ultimately the horse is a silent witness to the horror of war, becoming an effective storytelling metaphor.
Later in the movie one scene I thought was a little overdone, the moment of blindfold recognition. I like to feel emotions in a movie, but not to have them evoked in a contrived way.
War Horse certainly deserves to be nominated for Best Picture and Best Cinematography, yet I cannot help thinking that actors who vote for awards would prefer as I do to have the story centered around a human character. Nevetheless, when I was a child or young teen I loved watching movies like this, particularly Lassie Goes to war.
Another movie I recommend if you don't mind subtitles is the French movie A Very Long Engagement
, starring Audrey Tautou, and Academy Award winner Marion Cotillard. A girl seeks her boyfriend believed killed by being sent over the trench deliberately into no mans land for breaking military regulations. It has huge parallels with Warhorse except the protagonists are human, and also operates as a polemic. A beautifully filmed touching love story set against the war.
I think you will love it, and I hope this was helpful.