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ADVANCE: War Horse - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
ADVANCE: War Horse
Directing: B+
Acting: B+
Writing: B+
Cinematography: A-
Editing: B+
Music: C+

There are times when Steven Spielberg gets a bit too "Spielbergian" for his own good. He's been making movies for so long, you pretty much always know what you're going to get: slightly forced political posturing (Munich), slightly misguided popcorn entertainment (Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull), or slightly forced "family wholesomeness" -- that last one being where War Horse comes in as his latest example. The sad truth is, Spielberg hasn't been a vital force in cinema with a purity of vision since the nineties.

But that doesn't mean he isn't still entertaining. Given the size of his body of work, it's impressive that he nearly always delivers on that front. And when it comes to good, solid family entertainment, War Horse delivers.

This is essentially the latest in a long line of movies about a boy and his pet. It's just that this time, instead of a dog, it's a horse. There are even other characters who dismiss his bond with the horse for that very reason: "It's not a dog!" they chide.

What gets kind of turned around here is the point of view. The story opens with the horse, soon to be called Joey, being born. And instead of just the story of Albert (fresh-faced newcomer Jeremy Irvine), the Devon farmer's boy who raises Joey, this is Joey's story. It follows Joey wherever he goes, even after he's sold to the army at the outbreak of World War I, due to financial ruin being the only alternative for the family after heavy rains ruin their crop. But, after Albert's father (Peter Mullan) foolishly bids an outrageously high price for this horse at auction and Albert trains him as promised, it was Joey who plowed the field and made the crop possible to begin with.

This is how Spielberg endears us to the horse. Albert takes a liking to him in his youth, the horse bouncing around and being playful enough that you had no idea a horse could be so adorable. Albert's father outbids his landlord (David Thewlis, best known as Remus Lupin in the Harry Potter movies and therefore kind of hard to accept even as a moderate villain here) for the horse as a source of misguided pride. But even Albert's mother (the always lovely Emily Watson) comes around to loving the horse after some initial hard-nosed skepticism.

But Joey is sold in a moment of desperation, and we follow him on his adventures, which mostly amount to enduring physical challenges. This is where things get a tad too athropomorphized for my taste: Joey befriends another horse in the army. At one point, when said other horse is being tested to its physical limitations pulling artillery up a hill, Joey literally jumps forward to volunteer himself to take its place. Give me a break.

But while I might be rolling my eyes one minute, I'm finding myself completely affected the next. This is no thanks at all to the obtrusively manipulative John Williams score, which I truly could have done without. It's more the presentation of the horse's story overall. You can't help but pull for Joey, the poor animal. He endures so much. There's one sequence in which he runs on his own in a panic through a war-torn World War I trench warfare landscape that is particularly harrowing.

I have to mention the cinematography. At times, especially at the end when the sky is so artificial-orange that you wonder if you're suddenly watching Gone with the Wind, it gets a little heavy handed. Most of the time, it's stunning. There are sights in this movie so gorgeous they alone make it worth seeing. In one scene, in which horseback-riding (including, of course, Joey) cavalry stages a surprise attack on an unsuspecting enemy, I was in awe. Rarely are the horrors of war depicted so beautifully.

Joey meets several people during his time in the war, exchanging ownership between soldiers on both sides and also coming across a French farmer and his orphaned granddaughter. Whether soldier or citizen, they all naturally force a bond with the horse. But none so strong, of course, as that between Albert and Joey -- so strong that Albert joins the military partly in an effort to find him. You can kind of guess where things ultimately end up from there, just by virtue of this being a Spielberg film. There are unexpected detours, but in the end it's still predictable. But predictability does not necessarily preclude solid entertainment, which, in spite of its shortcomings, is precisely what War Horse is.

Jeremy Irvine bonds with the WAR HORSE.

Overall: B+

Opens Christmas Day.
2 comments or Leave a comment
From: (Anonymous) Date: December 7th, 2011 02:13 am (UTC) (Link)


I stopped reading at "after he's sold to the army at the outbreak of World War II."

It's WWI.
cinema_holic From: cinema_holic Date: December 7th, 2011 02:18 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Huh?

Oh, crap! That's totally what I meant. Typo. I fixed it. Thanks!
2 comments or Leave a comment