Steven Spielberg has come a long way from Sugarland Express. The producer, director, father and icon has gone on to create some of the most popular movies ever think Jurassic Park, the Indiana Jones films, and E.T. But some of Spielberg’s most passionate projects have been his films exploring the heartbreak and frivolity of war such as Empire of the Sun, Saving Private Ryan, and of course Schindler’s List. Spielberg’s new film War Horse — that opens on Christmas Day – is his newest exploration on the topic and is yet another beautifully executed lesson from the master for our kids of the tragedy of conflict and battle.
On the surface, War Horse is a simple film – a film about a boy and his horse. But World War I muddies what could have been their pastoral destinies and leads both the boy and Joey his gorgeous steed into the military zone. One would think the film would tag along with the young Albert but instead the film (as the book and stage play before it) followed the horse as he is transferred from opposing sides of the war, falls into the hands of a young girl, is the getaway for a duo of AWOL Germans, among others paths and adventures that the animal is led on.
The most striking thing about this film, besides that gorgeous cinematography and English landscapes, is the way it communicates the changes that came with the Last Great War’. These technological advances in war are subtly introduced in the film but their effect changed the way battles have been fought ever since.
The cast of War Horse is young, and mostly unknown (except for such luminaries such as Emily Watson and Peter Mullan) and they come to their performances with a wide-eyed naiveté that translates beautifully on film (and into the story). Their moving performances are accented with the emotional John Williams score.
As for who should go see this film, it is not for the younger set like those in elementary school. It is far more suited to those in middle and high school, especially if they are in midst of studying US or European history. War Horse gives a powerful message of how brutal war is, without grand standing. The film gives a human face to those who lost their lives as well as giving an educational taste for how wars were fought in back in the day. But the film is also about love, the bond that can be formed between animal and man.
The film does not have any gratuitous violence, rather it just suggests the very real brutally of war, there may not be much in the way of blood and guts but the message, the tragedy of it all, comes across loud and clear. Spielberg wanted this film to reach a wide audience, including older school children and he tip-toed along this challenging fine line like a master. But hey, he’s Spielberg, of course he can do it.
Check out an exclusive clip from the film here: