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War Horse

2012-03-02 12:36
 
What it's about:

Albert, a farmer's boy, forms friendship between a horse named Joey, and trains the young horse. When they are forcefully parted due to the outbreak of the First World War 1, the extraordinary journey of the horse, as he moves through the war, changing and inspiring the lives of all those he meets- British cavalry, German soldiers, and a French farmer and his granddaughter - before the story reaches its emotional climax in the heart of No Man's Land, begins.

What we thought:
 
Just in time for the family-friendly holiday is Steven Spielberg's sweeping, historical epic War Horse.

It's a story that began life as a children's book by Michael Morpurgo, then made its way to the London and New York stages to great acclaim featuring inventive puppetry, and now arrives in theaters with all the grandeur a master filmmaker can conjure. War Horse features a strong cast and the sort of impeccable production values you would expect from Spielberg - that trademark, mystical lighting, the product of his longtime collaboration with Oscar-winning cinematographer Janusz Kaminski.

And yet it's overlong, painfully earnest and sometimes even hokey. Clearly, Spielberg intended War Horse as a throwback, an homage to good, old-fashioned, heartrending storytelling, full of recognisable types and uplifting themes. The skies are so impossibly colorful in such a retro way, they look like hand-painted backdrops on a soundstage. And the dialogue is so frequently on-the-nose and repetitive, it might just make you cringe.

Yes, the horse is remarkable - of course he is - that's why they made a movie about him. That should have been obvious to us through the action alone, yet the script (from Lee Hall and Richard Curtis) feels the need to tell us again and again that he is a "remarkable" horse.

The majestic Joey comes into the lives of a struggling British farming family just before World War I. The alcoholic father (Peter Mullan) buys him at auction, even though he knows he can't afford him; the long-suffering mother (Emily Watson) insists he return him and get the family's money back. But plucky teenager Albert (good-looking newcomer Jeremy Irvine) begs to keep him and promises to train him. Cue the montage.

Although Joey is clearly a spectacular creature, the father ends up selling him to the British cavalry because the family needs the money. Albert is devastated and swears they'll meet again; the conscientious captain (Tom Hiddleston), who immediately recognizes Joey's greatness and chooses him as his own mount, promises to take good care of him until then.

Joey, meanwhile, thrives once more in this new setting on the front lines. And these moments are some of the film's best - the ones where the Spielberg of Saving Private Ryan comes shining through. An overhead shot of row after row of soldiers saddling up as one while hidden in a wheat field is especially stirring, as is their subsequent ambush on a German encampment. The battle scenes are reliably visceral and well-staged, albeit in a sanitised way. Even a race between Joey and the impressive horse belonging to the cocky major (Benedict Cumberbatch) provides a quick, thunderous thrill.

There's a reason so many movies get made about horses: They're beautiful, powerful creatures, and the pounding of hooves gets your heart pounding, as well.

But speaking of Joey and his new rival, their relationship represents one of the more cloying aspects of War Horse: the incessant anthropomorphism of these animals. Would they really achieve a hard-won respect for each other and end up protecting one another in the thick of battle? Maybe. Maybe not. But the human assumption that they would just for the sake of furthering the narrative is sort of obnoxious.

Eventually, Joey changes hands again and ends up living on a farm with an adorable but sickly French girl (Cecile Buckens) and her doting grandfather (Niels Arestrup). But then he's captured once more - this time by the Germans - and forced to fight again. This sets up the film's best scene by far, in which a British soldier and a German soldier find Joey entangled in some barbed wire in no man's land and work together to free him.

It's a tense, quiet exchange that ultimately reveals some much-needed humanity, and it could have ended on just the right note - but then War Horse goes and ruins it by adding one line too many, just to remind us of how "remarkable" Joey is.


The story of a remarkable horse named Joey and his unbreakable bond with the boy who trained him - until the First Word War forced them apart.

- AP

Read more on:    steven spielberg  |  movies  |  review  |  war horse
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(Comments may be edited or deleted at the Channel24 editors’ discretion)
pat collins 3/3/2012 3:18 PM
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I come from Devon where the film was shot. The sunsets are sometimes just like the film, and what a nice way to experience something so glorious.The scenery of Devon is very pictureque and not rugged like South Africa. And being an English based film it is more in depth than the local films.the movie is clearly a five star movie not three stars
Shirley 3/5/2012 11:04 AM
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The movie was brilliant and I am going to go and watch it again!
Caryn 3/5/2012 11:59 AM
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Disneyesque, poor acting, disjointed & having seen the damage one strand of barbed wire can to do a horse's leg, totally unbelievable that galloping & somersaulting through entire fences of barbed wire the horse ended up with two scratches? The only believable part of the film was the representation of the futility of war and the damage the egos of commanders can have on the canon-fodder soldiers.
brian 3/5/2012 1:24 PM
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Wonderful movie.Family value/Friendship. And the reality of war
Sharky 3/5/2012 8:07 PM
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When was the first "word" war?
E. 3/6/2012 8:17 AM
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@Sharky: Rather ask when was the Second World War I? :-P (P.S. I haven't seen the movie yet, so don't believe my stars!)
Fiona Moolla 3/19/2012 11:40 AM
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I loved the movie and so did my 2 girls. It was really spellbinding and towards the end you think what a twist of fate that he'd loose his horse when he just fpund it only to be surprised yet again... amazing story of true horse courage!
David hutch 3/30/2012 12:31 PM
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Thoroughly enjoyed this Film, what else do expect from Steven Spielberg. He has always had the ability to get people to grasp humanity.its a definite second time watch for me, I recommend it to any family.
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