Leave it to Steven Spielberg to make an engaging, epic, and poignant movie with a horse as the main character. The legendary director is behind War Horse, a World War I-set drama that follows a horse named Joey as he's raised in Britain and trained by his doting owner, Albert (Jeremy Irvine). Due to financial circumstances, Albert's family is forced to sell Joey to the war effort, and as the horse is involved in various battles and trades, he's passed from different owners and opposing sides all over Europe.
As Joey enters the life of each temporary caretaker, we experience a snapshot of these characters' lives and how the war has affected them. Though the movie is a long and sprawling tale, Spielberg makes each vignette compelling and touching enough that you want to ride along with Joey on his journey. To find out where else War Horse succeeds, just keep reading.
War Horse may have a big name in the director's chair, but the cast is surprisingly light on huge stars. Tom Hiddleston is one of the few recognizable actors, and his time on screen as a British soldier is brief. But his section is still interestingly spun, and the same is true for the stories of the other characters Joey meets, like the pair of German brothers who use the horse to defect from the army, or the feisty French girl who lives with her grandfather in the countryside. You get enough information about their individual ordeals to be invested in them, even though you won't be with them for long.
Though the variety of interwoven tales are what keep War Horse moving right along, you're still interested in the fate of Albert, as he grows up and has his own experience in the war. That credit is partially due to up-and-comer Irvine, whose earnestness makes Albert a character whose outcome you care about (along with whether he'll ever see Joey again).
The film doesn't completely shield you from the senselessness of war, and certain character deaths are very abrupt. Spielberg might be blunt about the horrors of battle, but he also doesn't use their tragic fates to manipulate you emotionally. The director knows exactly how to balance the truth of what happens with the compassion that still exists in people, even in the face of difficult wartime decisions. It's what makes War Horse, despite its title, a very human story.
Photos courtesy of Dreamworks