I will admit that when I went to see War Horse, which was released on Christmas Day, I was hoping to see a great movie. The horse’s place in modern culture continues to slide as its roles diminish. A great movie can help restore the horse’s place in our imagination.
I had read the book, and loved it. I had seen the play and enjoyed that, too, although I was so intrigued by the puppets that played the horses, I was a little distracted from the story itself. No matter how good the book is, or the play, a movie is going to be much more accessible to the public, so it was important that this was a well-executed adaptation. I believe it was.
The best acting in the movie was from the equine star who played Joey, Finders Key. Often in horse movies, as a horseman, you cringe at a couple of scenes because they are either unrealistic or simply incorrect. Such scenes may work for those who are not horsemen, but not for us. In War Horse, Joey’s role was brilliant, and very well done. I found Joey to be engaging, almost humorous at times. He was stoic when required, compassionate and playful, and much more.
When I first learned who was playing the part of Joey, a Thoroughbred named Finders Key, I wanted to know more about the horse. Finders Key is a great example of a now-13-year-old Thoroughbred who was simply in the wrong role when he was a racehorse. He started only four times, all in $2,500 maiden-claiming races at Los Alamitos Race Course, in Los Angeles, and never placed. He now has a few movie credits to his name, and certainly his performance in War Horse should guarantee him a great career going forward.
For me, the “No Man’s Land” scene was the best few minutes of the movie. Not only does it highlight the inhumanity of war, but more importantly how a horse can halt the madness and elicit cooperation and friendship among people. Joey highlighted humanity from both sides throughout the movie, but specifically in that scene. Because the movie is set during World War I, some may be offended by its violence.
Joey ultimately became a symbol of hope to those who survived the wretchedness of trench warfare during the four years of war. This hopefulness ensured that he would then not be betrayed; he would not suffer the same fate of many other war horses who actually survived the war only to be sold at auction after the war was over.
Finders Key will not win an Oscar for his performance, but perhaps it is an opportunity for our industry to highlight second careers for Thoroughbreds by honoring him with a Special Eclipse Award.
Overall, I think this is a terrific film for any animal lover, and a movie that horsemen will love if only for its realism.
Alex Brown is author of the 2011 book Greatness and Goodness: Barbaro and His Legacy. Follow him on Twitter at @alexbrownracing