Film » Film Features

Gift Horse

Spielberg saddles up for an old-fashioned epic



At two and a half hours, Steven Spielberg's family drama War Horse at times feels as long as war itself. But with so many movies abandoning classic filmmaking for digital gimmickry and other post-production tricks these days, there's something admirably quaint about the director's old-fashioned approach to storytelling (which balances out his other movie opening this week, the CGI Adventures of Tintin).

British farm boy Albert Narracott (newcomer Jeremy Irvine) lives with his strong-willed mother and alcoholic father (Emily Watson and Peter Mullan) at the dawn of World War I. After another day of boozing, Dad spends way too much money on a horse at auction. The plan is to put the horse, which Albert names Joey, to work on the barren fields that are the family's only means of income. But Joey is as stubborn as the rest of the Narracott clan at first.

He's eventually sold to the cavalry, which takes him on a journey across Europe and to both sides of the war. The movie may be adapted from a classic young-adult novel and popular stage version, but the heroic battle scenes are all Spielberg (with some help from his longtime cinematographer, Janusz Kaminski).

The director doesn't rush a thing here. From Joey's birth and breaking to his enlistment and adventures, Spielberg doesn't cut away or use editing tricks to speed up the story. You get to know Joey, as well as the various people he meets along the way, including a French jelly-maker (an excellent Niels Arestrup) and two German soldier brothers.

Modern-day moviegoers may be confused by the film's deliberate pace. Unfortunately, they may also be turned off and bored. But stick with it: War Horse's quiet charms will win you over. Movies aren't made like this anymore; people simply don't have the attention spans for heartwarming, heartbreaking, and occasionally hokey epics like this. But, as Spielberg expertly proves throughout this wonderful movie, breathtaking period pieces never go out of style. --Michael Gallucci

We welcome readers to submit letters regarding articles and content in Cleveland Scene. Letters should be a minimum of 150 words, refer to content that has appeared on Cleveland Scene, and must include the writer's full name, address, and phone number for verification purposes. No attachments will be considered. Writers of letters selected for publication will be notified via email. Letters may be edited and shortened for space.

Email us at

Support Local Journalism.
Join the Cleveland Scene Press Club

Local journalism is information. Information is power. And we believe everyone deserves access to accurate independent coverage of their community and state. Our readers helped us continue this coverage in 2020, and we are so grateful for the support.

Help us keep this coverage going in 2021. Whether it's a one-time acknowledgement of this article or an ongoing membership pledge, your support goes to local-based reporting from our small but mighty team.

Join the Cleveland Scene Press Club for as little as $5 a month.