War Horse (2011)
We have to go back 22 years, all the way to Dances with Wolves, for Oscar to award Best Picture to a movie with an animal playing a primary role (and even that put most of the emphasis on Costner). And we must go back 18 years, to 1994’s Schindler’s List, for the last time composer John Williams gathered up an Oscar win. Where do these seemingly irrelevant questions combine? In 2011’s War Horse. Of course, all but one of Williams’ wins have been under director Steven Spielberg, and with two nominations for Best Score this year—both under Spielberg again—I can’t imagine this slump will continue much longer. First with The Adventures of Tintin and then War Horse, Williams delighted audiences with his hopeful, powerful, utterly Hollywood scores. In fact, I found nothing that truly screamed “Hollywood” this year like War Horse. With the orchestral score, grandiose scenery, action, and drama, War Horse is the reason we go to the movies.
Irvine and one of 14 Joey’s
Set in early 20th century England, War Horse focuses on Albert (Jeremy Irvine in his motion picture debut), a young lad that trains his beautiful young colt Joey (played by 14 different horses throughout the duration) and forms a close-knit, lifelong friendship. Soon, as England enters WWI against Germany, horses are corralled from local farms in order to help the cause. When Albert loses Joey to a trustable group of British soldiers, he is noticeably distraught. As the “war horse” traverses the terrible realities of battle, Albert joins the ranks in order to find his friend.
Following in the footsteps of other films with Broadway roots (think Fiddler on the Roof or Mamma Mia!), theatricality plays a role in the acting, stage production, lighting, and even humor. Animal antics from the various equines, as well as sheep, geese, and others, provide comic relief, especially near the films beginning (what better time to note the film’s runtime: a lengthy 2 hours and 26 minutes). Overacting is the key to the cheesy, but very Hollywood, performances, and the intense drama carries over well from the stage. While the Oscar for Best Cinematography must go to Hugo, War Horse achieves excellence in almost every technical aspect of filming. Lighting is brilliant, and every shot seems expertly placed. All in all, the Hollywood style has rarely been more apparent. But that’s just what Steven Spielberg does.
Pathos, pathos, pathos. Thank goodness for the film’s PG-13 rating, or else its overall good-natured, emotionally satisfying, stimulating, and uplifting story may have been overburdened by scenes of death and destruction. While some movies (mostly ones by Darren Aronofsky) benefit from tragic ends, War Horse deserves its happily ever after finale. The story will make you cry, laugh, and wince, but mostly it will be the smile that will remain plastered to your face. This, of course, is no doubt helped by the positively adorable cast of over 100 horses used in filming. And by following Joey from army to army and family to family, War Horse keeps its title star its primary character.
Oscar loves the underdog story. Just ask The King’s Speech, Gandhi, Rocky, or My Fair Lady. Joey is the ultimate underdog, just a young plough horse that survives one of the deadliest wars in world history. Will War Horse come from behind and win Oscar’s approval by a nose? We’ll just have to see. How did you like War Horse? Will it win any of its 6 Oscar nominations?