War Horse...a robwrite review

WAR HORSE (4 stars out of 5)

It's not an easy feat to combine a war film and a family film. This movie doesn't completely accomplish that because War Horse is probably too intense at some points for young children, but overall, the film manages to be a touching story about a boy and his horse, while also being a rather grim condemnation of the insanity of war.

Steven Spielberg had his best year in a long time in 2011, with the one-two punch of The Adventures of Tintin and this excellent cinematic adaptation of the play War Horse. From an artistic standpoint, this film is one of the most visually impressive movies to come along in many years, and Speilberg proves that he is still a director of considerable skill, and not just a guy who makes Hollywood blockbusters. War Horse isn't a flawless film but it more than makes up for its inadequecies with a dynamic flair that only a director the calibre of Speilberg could provide.

Lets also give a lot of credit to the horse. 'Finders Key', a former racehorse, is the real star of the film. This isn't his first foray into movies, since he also starred as the eponymous four-legged hero in Seabiscuit (2003). Although there were a dozen 'Stunt horses' who filled in for Finder's Key along the way (and a few times CGI was used instead of a real horse), this horse is still the most talented movie horse since Trigger. If there were an award for Best Non-human Actor in a Major Motion Picture, Finder's Key would have it locked up this year. (There's something impressive about horses on screen. In a movie about a dog, the dog looks cute, but in a movie about a horse, the horse looks majestic.)

The epic storyline begins in England in the years just before the First World War. The plot follows our equine hero from the day of his birth, when he is first spotted by young Albert, who takes to visiting the growing horse over the next few months. When the horse is put up for sale, Joey's father Ted (Peter Mullan) decides impulsively to buy it. Although what the family really needs is a plow horse, Ted is determined to show-up his evil landlord Mr. Lyons (Played by David Thewlis, best known as Prof. Lupin in the Harry Potter films) by outbidding him. The purchase thrills the now teen-aged Albert (Jeremy Irvine) but his mom (Emily Watson) is furious that Ted spent so much money on a 'show horse'. With the family in debt and Mr. Lyons sniffing around for the back rent, it's up to Albert to turn the horse--who he names Joey--into a work horse. Albert and Joey develop a close, loving bond and Joey comes through in the clutch. However, fate is against the family and unforeseen circumstances occur to ensure that Ted can't pay off his debts unless he sells Joey.

World War One has just broken out and the British Cavalry needs horses, so Joey is sold to a kind and noble soldier named Captain Nichols (Tom Hiddleson, who played Loki in Thor) who takes Joey to France. Although the Captain is a benign owner to Joey, he doesn't survive long in the war, and Joey is taken into the hands of the Germans. This is the first of several times that poor Joey is passed around from owner to owner; some kind, some cruel. (The scene where the German army is forcing the Horses to pull tanks uphill until they collapse is gruelling to watch.)

The cleverness of the film is how we see different aspects of the war from different points of view, depending upon who owns Joey at the time. We get to see the British side, the German side and even the innocent French civilians caught in the cross-fire. Through it all, Joey shows a Forrest Gump-like knack for surviving and adapting though a variety of difficult circumstances.

Joey is unnaturally intelligent and there are several scenes where Joey puts himself in harms way to save a fellow horse who he has bonded with, because he realizes his hoofed buddy just can't hack it the way Joey can. Joey's human friend and former owner Albert soon gets involved in the war and the whims of fate slowly bring he and Joey closer together but can they find each other amid the madness and total chaos of war?

The best scene in the film (one sure to get the audience's hearts racing) is when Joey makes a sudden dash for freedom on the battlefield. With explosions going on all around him, and soldiers watching with surprise as this horse zooms past them, leaping and running for all he's worth, Joey's desperate and dazzling race to escape Hell is a superb moment and the viewer can't help rooting for him to make it.

Spielberg throws in a few humanistic conceits that don't quite ring true--such as when two enemy soldiers call a truce and unite to save Joey--but the purpose is to show that humanity can still exist, even in a savage warzone. It's a nice thought, however unlikely the scene is.

The battle scenes don't match up to other Spielberg efforts like Saving Private Ryan, but they aren't meant to. This isn't really a war film in the purist scene. World War One is the backdrop to the main story about how an unconquerable spirit--represented here by a horse--can survive anything. The message is that determination, hope, friendship and compassion can win out over the horrors of war.

There are some weaknesses in the film. Irvine makes a dull leading man, and some of the characters are a bit cliched, but that isn't really important, because the horse is the star of the show. Spielberg catches the animal at the right moments, at the perfect angles, to make it appear as if the horse's expression is reacting to outside events. (Give that horse an Oscar!)

War Horse tugs relentlessly at the heart strings and it can be a bit over-sentimentalized at times, but there is such energy, heart and visual artistry to this film, you'll be cheering Joey on.

Recommended.



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Comments 28 comments

jht1414 profile image

jht1414 4 years ago from Chapel Hill, NC

a good review of a good movie. nice.


jacqui2011 profile image

jacqui2011 4 years ago from Leicester, United Kingdom

What a great review of "War Horse." I really want to see this film and am planning to go next weekend. It sounds a fantastic film and one that I would love. Thanks for sharing your thoughts of the film. Voted up - useful/interesting.


Cogerson profile image

Cogerson 4 years ago from Virginia

I have been checking your profile...just waiting for the last hub...and finally it is here and it is a movie review...two good things.

It seems 'Finders Key' is having a pretty good movie career. I am glad to see Spielberg is having a nice rebound...he let the taste of Indy 4 stay to long in our mouths...almost 5 years. I like your comparison between Joey and Forrest Gump....and the previews seem to agree with you about Jeremy Irvine's dull leading man performance.

I enjoyed reading your review, I figure if it does not do well with Oscar nominations....it will be on DVD pretty soon....voted up and awesome.


Jools99 profile image

Jools99 4 years ago from North-East UK

Rob, interesting hub. I am quite looking forward to seeing this movie, it looks like such an interesting story.


Xenonlit profile image

Xenonlit 4 years ago

Great review. I plan to see this film.


Greensleeves Hubs profile image

Greensleeves Hubs 4 years ago from Essex, UK

Rob; nice review of a film which I have yet to see, but which sounds appealing and well crafted. Thanks.


Steve Lensman profile image

Steve Lensman 4 years ago from London, England

One of the few Oscar-worthy movies I'll be rooting for, I haven't seen it and going by your review it's a typical Spielberg movie. Senor Spielbergo has directed a bunch of my favourite movies, I hope he wins but I doubt it.

Thanks for the review Rob. Voted Up.


Robwrite profile image

Robwrite 4 years ago from Bay Ridge Brooklyn NY Author

Hi jht1414;

Glad you liked it. Thanks.

Rob


Robwrite profile image

Robwrite 4 years ago from Bay Ridge Brooklyn NY Author

Hi jacqui2011; Thanks for the kind words. This is a first-rate film and I highly recommend it. I hope you enjoy it.

Thanks for stopping by,

Rob


Robwrite profile image

Robwrite 4 years ago from Bay Ridge Brooklyn NY Author

Hi Jools; This is an interesting story, based on a popular book and play. Spielberg does a good job adapting it. I think you'll enjoy it.

Good to hear from you,

Rob


Robwrite profile image

Robwrite 4 years ago from Bay Ridge Brooklyn NY Author

Hi Xenolit; Thank you. Enjoy the film when you see it. It's a good one.

Thanks for the comments,

Rob


Robwrite profile image

Robwrite 4 years ago from Bay Ridge Brooklyn NY Author

Hi Bruce; I'm getting over the flu so I haven't been writing much this week but I'm better now so I finally doing my overdue review of "Warhorse".

Finders Key is making a career for himself. If you need a horse that looks good running, call his agent.

Spielberg really made a comback this year. He's been in a bit of a slump for a while but this year he really came to the party with a vengeance. I enjoyed both this and "Tintin".

I think this might be one of the oscar nominated films so I excpet that it won't come out on DVD/Blu Ray until after the Oscars are given out. I don't think it'll get best picture but I might be surprised.

Always good to hear from you,

Rob


Robwrite profile image

Robwrite 4 years ago from Bay Ridge Brooklyn NY Author

Hi Greenpeace. Yes, this is a very well crafted and artful film. Joey is a very appealing main character. It's a good film.

Thanks for stopping by my hub,

Rob


Robwrite profile image

Robwrite 4 years ago from Bay Ridge Brooklyn NY Author

Hi Steve; This is kind of a cross between one of those Spielberg family films and "Saving Private Ryan". It's an odd mix but it works. I haven't seen the play but it's coming to Broadway soon so maybe I'll catch it then.

I really doubt this will capture the Best Picture statue but you never know. We've been surpised before. (Shakespeare in Love beating Private Ryan???)

Thanks for visiting my hub,

Rob


tschaunerb profile image

tschaunerb 4 years ago from Medicine Hat

everyone is reviewing War Horse.

I think it will do well at the Oscars.


Robwrite profile image

Robwrite 4 years ago from Bay Ridge Brooklyn NY Author

Hi; I waited until most of the other reviews were done so I wouldn't get lost in a crowd of other reviews.

I'm pretty sure it will get a few nominations but it may be an underdog in terms of the likelihood of winning.

Rob


Stevennix2001 profile image

Stevennix2001 4 years ago

To be honest, I completely forgot to mention how dull the lead actor was in this movie, and after reading your review, I wish I had made some reference to it. Oh well. lol. Anyway, pretty good review. I don't know if the horse will win an Oscar for this movie, but then again, they could always make a special exception like they did with "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" for being the first animated feature film, so you never know. Anyway, keep up the good work.


CarltheCritic1291 profile image

CarltheCritic1291 4 years ago

As dull as Jeremy Irvine was I didn't think it was that big of a deal, but never the less he was very dull. I'm sure it will get nominated for multiple awards (including Best Picture). But we're just gonna have to wait and see. Great Hub Rob, as always, Voted Up, and Everything Else :)


Robwrite profile image

Robwrite 4 years ago from Bay Ridge Brooklyn NY Author

Hi Steven; He was a dull leading man. The horse was a lot more talented than he was. I don't expect them to create a new Oscar for Finders Key but if they ever come up with the Lassie Award for animal actors, I'll nominate Finders Key.

Thanks for reading,

Rob


Robwrite profile image

Robwrite 4 years ago from Bay Ridge Brooklyn NY Author

Hi Carl; I think this will probably get at least two Oscar nods (Best Picture and Director) and possibly an Adapted screenplay nomination. I don't think it will win but we'll have to wait and see. (After the official nominations come out I'll go into more detail about what I think will win and why.)

I can say with a great deal of certainty that Jeremy Irvine will not get any Best Actor nomination.

Thanks for stopping by my hub,

Rob


tschaunerb profile image

tschaunerb 4 years ago from Medicine Hat

on the note of giving the horse an Oscar; immediatley after seeing War Horse I said out loud "give that horse an oscar" I guess we are all on the same comedy wave length,


Stevennix2001 profile image

Stevennix2001 4 years ago

The lassie awards? That sounds like a good idea for "Animal Planet" to get involved in, as that's a great idea. You should definitely try to submit that idea to "Animal Planet" to come up with their own award show for animals called the "Lassie Awards", as I bet that could be a very lucrative idea to pitch to them.


Robwrite profile image

Robwrite 4 years ago from Bay Ridge Brooklyn NY Author

tschaunerb; I'm going to start a petition.


Robwrite profile image

Robwrite 4 years ago from Bay Ridge Brooklyn NY Author

Steven; Maybe I will. Its got to be better than most reality TV.


FloraBreenRobison profile image

FloraBreenRobison 4 years ago

I think combining genres was easier in the studio era because the people involved worked with each other all the time and had lots of practice trying to make films that will appeal to everyone/get past the production codes of the day. Here I am thinking of of early westerns, for example, that might be set during the American civil war compared to films made after, say , The wild Bunch?

I have to say that this is not top on my list offilms to see of the movies that got Oscar nominations, but a nominated film is a nominated film.

Thorough review.

Sorry to hear you had the flu.


Robwrite profile image

Robwrite 4 years ago from Bay Ridge Brooklyn NY Author

Hi Flora. Thanks, I'm feeling much better now. At one time it was easier to mix war films with the family genre because back then, the films weren't so violent as to horrify children. If you take a movie like "General Spanky", it could combine the Civl War with the little Rascals because there wasn't a lot of blood in those old war films. You never saw anyone get half their heads shot off. It's a much trickier balance today, but I think "Warhorse" manages it.

If you're not interested in "Warhorse", try "the Artist". If you like silent films, this is a treat.

Thanks for stopping by,

Rob


Lady_E profile image

Lady_E 4 years ago from London, UK

Very interesting movie.I have only read good reviews about it so far. This is another good one.

Thanks.


Robwrite profile image

Robwrite 4 years ago from Bay Ridge Brooklyn NY Author

Hi Lady E.; It's a good one, and it's nominated for best picture in the US academy awards. I think you'd like it.

Rob

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