There are two men we know as Steven Spielberg — one who makes escapist films such as Jaws, ET and the Indiana Jones franchise; and one who makes serious adult films, including Schindler’s List, Saving Private Ryan and Munich.
They both pop up periodically. Maybe a case of one parent giving both sons the same name, you know, like George Foreman. But I do suspect that since they both are famous and have the same last name, they sometimes get together for coffee and compare films. Competitively, I imagine. Mine is good, yours sucks. Mom likes me better. She does not. On and on.
Now, it appears they’ve managed to bury the hatchet. Why? Because a third director also known as Steven Spielberg has just released a film called War Horse. A dreamy, idealistic, brutally bloody film about a horse who survives WWI. Of course, I was skeptical. This two-headed film couldn’t be the work of one man, could it?
There’s the warm,fuzzy family film that tells a story about an Irish boy from a struggling farm family who falls in love with a horse named Joey. It feels somewhat like Little House on the Prairie, if Little House had moved to Ireland. Lovely green hills, small village people with heavy brogues, lots of drinking, and a put-out mother who loves her man regardless of how far off the wagon he’s fallen.
In this film, Joey, whom no one thought was worth what the father paid for him, turns out to be the family hero — shades of Black Beauty and My Friend Flicka. The horse actually saves the farm.
Then you have Joey ripped from the boy’s care and shipped off by the English army to the French front during WWI. In this film, the horse falls under the care of many different owners — some soldiers, some civilians.
Joey witnesses the gruesome reality of war: sabers slashing, shells exploding, executions, deadly gas, bloody hell in the trenches. The horse, passed off accidentally from hand to hand, suffers as badly as any soldier and eventually ends up stranded between English and German lines, trapped in barbed wire and left for dead. Only the unforeseen cooperation between an English and a German soldier saves his life.
There’s enough sentiment and bloody action in this film to satisfy both sets of Spielberg fans. What’s important to note is that each Spielberg brings his A game. It’s as if one was inspired to outdo the other. Spielberg 1 yelling for another gooey horse shot, Spielberg 2 demanding more firepower. Maybe they fought each other on the set but it seems that eventually they shook hands and spliced their two films together.
OK, the writing sometimes feels like it’s geared for 10-year-olds, and the ministories within the big story can be annoying, especially the one where the dying French girl finds Joey in her barn. Could this be Spielberg’s tribute to Heidi? Say it ain’t so.
I think, however, that both Spielbergs knew exactly what they were doing. They had their blue-eyed Irish lad and their wide-eyed chestnut horse. They went for the throat — a complete onslaught of emotion, action and swooping scenes in which Joey outruns the English and German armies.
Subtlety has no place in this film. The only goal of War Horse is to make you laugh, gasp and cry uncontrollably, a full-on dab-your-eyes, clap-your-hands emotional gusher.
Of course, I’d watched the previews, so the film’s whoopdedah came as no surprise. Still, even though I knew what was coming, even when I steeled myself and made a pledge to stand firm against it, it didn’t matter. I finally gave up, bought in, and cheered. A boy and his horse. Hell, how could I resist? Damn those Spielberg brothers. They really got me good.