War Horse review

Posted: December 28, 2011 in Film Review
Tags: , , ,

OK – so my little group just got back from seeing War Horse, and this is a diverse group indeed: a middle-aged dad, a fourteen-year-old son, a seventeen-year-old niece, and grandma – a senior who has seen her fair share of movies, (the eight-year-old was left at home – for good reason I believe – more later).  And we all actually agreed: this is a good film.  No small feat indeed – but this is a Steven Spielberg film, complete with big vistas, big music from John Williams, and big aspirations.  So if you hear someone say: “They just don’t make movies like they used to,” direct them to War Horse, based on the children’s novel of the same name by Michael Morpurgo.

War Horse depends more on story and visuals (and less on dialogue and special effects), and follows the title character Joey as he moves from caretaker to caretaker, country to country, and battle to battle.  The film begins in England where the thoroughbred colt is bought with good intentions but for the wrong reasons by a drunken farmer (played by Peter Mullan), and it becomes the duty of the son (Jeremy Irvine) to train the horse and work the fields, and the horse and boy develop a lasting bond.  But this is a story about the horse, and as World War I breaks out, the horse is sold to an English captain (Tom Hiddleston) who takes him into battle and away from the English countryside.  From there, this war horse ends up hauling wounded troops, helping two brothers escape the frontlines, befriending a French girl (Celine Buckens) and her grandfather (Niels Arestrup), until once again being commandeered by the German army and forced to pack heavy artillery (emphasis on heavy here) until the war’s end.

Along the way, there is plenty of great cinematography (and the scenic shots are beautiful), great visual storytelling (in fact, the first five minutes tell a great little story without any dialogue), and this is a wholesome film with clean language and honorable characters.  The PG-13 rating comes from one section of intense WWI combat footage, and several instances (albeit off-camera or implied) revolving around animal euthanasia.  The intensity of the scenes comes from Spielberg’s talent for visual and audio storytelling and not from graphic gore and blood – which is minimal – unlike Spielberg’s other war films Schindler’s List and Saving Private Ryan.

Another aspect of the film different from previous Spielberg’s works – and a little surprising – is that the original languages (with subtitles) were not used.  Granted, most viewers prefer this suspension of disbelief and appreciate hearing dialogue in English, but the English dialects were a little hard to comprehend at times, and the dialogue that should have been in the original language would have been minimal – there’s just not a lot of dialogue in this film.

The movie is long – two hours and 26 minutes – be prepared for that.  The good news is that the slowest part is toward the beginning, and once the story gets into full swing, it moves along nicely and does not feel like it’s been a long, hard ride at the movie’s end.  That said, the length is the main reason it is suggested to keep younger viewers (under twelve) from seeing the film on the big screen.  It will probably fare better for younger viewers once out on DVD and in the comfort of their own homes. Other than that, War Horse is good, wholesome quality entertainment for the whole family: father, son, niece, and grandmother – a movie like “they used to make ‘em.”


  1. CMrok93 says:

    Without a doubt, this is Spielberg trying his hardest to manipulate the hell out of his audience but it somehow works and brought me into the story despite some of the very corny moments. The cat doesn’t really have any big-names either, but they are all great in each of their own respective roles as well. Great review. Check out mine when you get the chance.

  2. It is nice to see a current treatment of the Great War which is now largely forgotten but yet so formative for the 20th Century. The juxtaposition of horses and 19th Century tactics with mechanized warfare was haunting. From the soldier’s point of view, dead horses behind the lines were a great source of extra food if they were not contaminated with gas: http://worldwar1letters.wordpress.com/2011/12/30/somewhere-in-france-7101918/

  3. […] fare, Hallmark kind-of-picture – which is not necessarily a bad thing (see review of “War Horse“) – but is just not a description of “Clancy.” This is a fairly gritty film […]

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