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Overall Rating
2.97

Awesome: 18.75%
Worth A Look28.13%
Just Average: 12.5%
Pretty Crappy: 12.5%
Sucks28.13%

3 reviews, 14 user ratings


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War Horse
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by Jay Seaver

"Steven Spielberg isn't quite John Ford, but still pretty good."
4 stars

"War Horse" is a film about a horse, told from its point of view and those of the people who encounter the animal before and during the First World War. This is both a blessing and a curse, in that it allows director Stephen Spielberg and the other filmmakers to look at war as a phenomenon almost divorced from human goals and motivations, but that distance may not work for everyone.

The horse is a beautiful, fast thoroughbred that captures the imagination of Devon farmer Ted Narracott (Peter Mullan), who buys it at auction even though what his family really needs is a strong workhorse. Ted's son Albert (Jeremy Irvine) names it Joey and manages to train it to pull a plow, but a disastrous rain and the looming war finds Joey pressed into army service, though Captain Nicholls (Tom Hiddleston) promises Albert that he will make Joey his personal steed and return him safely. It's to a long war, though, which will see Joey encounter German brothers (David Kross and Leonhard Carow), an ailing French girl (Celine Buckens) and her grandfather (Niels Arestrup), and others.

There's something very old-fashioned about War Horse at times; the last scene, for instance, could be tacked on to a John Ford western and not seem out of place other than being in color. And while Spielberg established a standard for realistic portrayals of the battlefield in Saving Private Ryan, he pulls back a little here, often obscuring the actual moment a bullet hits. Though it initially seems like a move meant to preserve a PG-13 rating and make a family-friendly war movie, it soon becomes clear that Spielberg is not presenting a bloodless child's fantasy of war. He's presenting the horse's view, and Joey doesn't really conceive of combat or death here - he's thrust into new situations with new masters without necessarily developing a great deal of understanding or attachment.

Indeed, as the film goes along, the soldiers appear to deliberately become more generic: Distinctive insignia disappear from uniforms, and only Emilie and her grandfather have strong, identifiable accents; soldiers on the battlefield are more alike than different. That's potentially a problem, but one that Spielberg and the writers (Lee Hall and Richard Curtis, who take elements from both Michael Morpurgo's original novel and the stage adaptation) counter by making the vignettes fairly strong individually; each is a well-told little tale, although none would really stand up to much expansion. Re-injecting Albert into the story has somewhat mixed results; it's necessary for the ending to not come out of thin air but the last act does wind up running a bit long as the story feels the need to go through a lot of steps to get where it's going.

As much a the movie is about a horse, with the animal handlers and their charges doing very well, individual segments do tend to rise and fall on the human characters and the actors playing them. The actors playing the Narracott family - Jeremy Irvine, Peter Mullan, and Emily Watson - get the leisurely first act to flesh their characters out, and make for a strong unit, with David Thewlis a natural antagonist as their landlord. Tom Hiddleston manages to make Nicholls tremendously noble without him seeming flat, with Benedict Cumberbatch and Eddie Marsan providing good foils (Marsan, in particular, demonstrates why he's a great character actor who improves every film he's in). Niels Arestrup and Celine Buckens are quite enjoyable to watch too, but after their segment and that with David Kross as the German groom trying to protect his brother as much as his animals, the cast becomes a little less memorable, though whether that's by design or unmet goals is debatable.

Examining the pieces individually makes War Horse sound a bit less impressive than it is, but the movie is more than the sum of its parts. Spielberg and company give themselves a lot of room to stretch out (the film runs nearly two and a half hours), and while the film could be tightened, it is important to give each story room to breathe. The lingering shots of a new actor that form the transitions between segments may sometimes seem unsophisticated, but there's nothing wrong with clarity in most cases. As you'd expect from a Spielberg film, there's polish on every detail, with two longtime collaborators - composer John Williams and director of photography Janusz Kaminski - doing very nice work, varying their approach based on the scene but keeping enough constant to knit the film together.

Is it Spielberg's best film? Probably not; depending on your taste, it might not even be his best movie this week. It's a throwback to be sure, and one that has its issues, but still engaging much more often than not.

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=20713&reviewer=371
originally posted: 01/03/12 23:34:29
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User Comments

12/23/13 Michelle O wish I had seen this in the theatre! & that's MAJOR for me!! 4 stars
6/23/12 glitter Syrupy sentimental, unbelievable plot twists. Had its moments but in the end I felt nothing 2 stars
5/24/12 Scott B. Couldn't have said it better. Got tired of being hit over the head with sentimentality. 3 stars
4/23/12 Chris B Awful film. Horrible lighting. Orange photoshop ending. 1 stars
3/27/12 Tyler Kirk REALLY? Why are the majority of the reviews "Total Crap"? This movie was great! 4 stars
3/24/12 Svend P Spot on! Very Boring movie indeed 2 stars
3/19/12 Herbert M Berman I walked out about an hour into the dull prologue. 1 stars
3/14/12 M plodded along, cast was a bit drab but plot/visuals kept me through 3 stars
2/04/12 Movie lover It a piece of crap, syrupy drivel, trite garbage! 1 stars
1/26/12 Andy Mellor Formulaic sentimental rubbish. Possibly Speilberg's worst film 2 stars
1/25/12 Devin Sabas slow a rare miss for spielberg 2 stars
1/11/12 PAUL SHORTT WELL MADE, HEARTWARMING AND OLD-FASHIONED IN THE BEST SENSE OF THE WORD 3 stars
1/04/12 Joanna Cumberbatch Good for present day movies; shortchanged grandfather/granddaughter subplot 4 stars
12/27/11 Darkstar It's good, but not worthy of a best pic nomination 3 stars
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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USA
  25-Dec-2011 (PG-13)
  DVD: 03-Apr-2012

UK
  N/A

Australia
  25-Dec-2011
  DVD: 03-Apr-2012




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