Wednesday, December 21, 2011

WAR HORSE Review: He said/She said

Directed by: Steven Spielberg
Written by: Lee Hall, Richard Curtis
Starring: Jeremy Irvine, Emily Watson, Tom Hiddleston, David Thewlis, and Benedict Cumberbatch
Synopsis: A horse is sold to the calvary during The Great War, and his young owner joins the war to find him and bring him home.

Javi: So Spielberg is a director I admire for being able to put on many hats rather seamlessly and still create a satisfying product. In a year where he has released a "back to form" action/adventure movie with THE ADVENTURES OF TIN TIN, we have a completely different project in the form of WAR HORSE. This movie has the problem of being a pretty big Oscar-bait in a lot of ways. You have the obligatory British actors, the World War setting, in this case the first one, and you had lots of dramatic tension in the form of a boy and his horse trying to reunite. So yes, this is one Daniel Day Lewis away from basically begging for those little golden fellas. But is it a good movie? The answer is yes.

Paint me a little biased, but as someone who has great affection for animals, this movie hit me in a spot that no human story could. There was just something about a person and the bond that they create with animal that is much more special than anything short of true love. When you've got a bond with an animal, you understand them without having to say anything to them. The fact that this movie deals with lots of people creating bonds with the one particularly awesome horse makes the movie all that more touching to me.

The cinematography and the landscapes were a big highlight for me as Spielberg decided to go to Scotland to properly recreate the setting of wartime Europe. You go from a farm all the way to the trenches for a climactic scene, and it all looks amazing and authentic. A personal highlight was seeing some of the "bigger" actors playing random characters drifting in and out of the story such as Benedict Cumberbatch and Loki himself, Tom Hiddleston.

But the real show here is seeing Jeremy Irvine's Albert and his relationship with Super-Horse, Joey. I'm not going to lie when I say that it's a really cheesy friendship. Albert sees Joey being born, and then he develops some crazy obsession with the horse. But man, you wouldn't doubt that by the time the horse is sold off to an army general, that Albert/Joey's friendship wasn't completely rock solid.

The big part where the movie lost me a bit was in its rather episodic format, and when you see the movie you'll know what I mean. Eventually, everything in each "episode" leads to the climax of the movie, but I couldn't help but feel a bit of a disconnect while watching the movie.

Don't let this completely turn you off as the movie itself is a grand testament to friendship and looks at the war from the point of view of yes a horse who for all senses and purposes has no political affiliation. There are good and bad people on both sides and in that regard, I found the movie elevate itself away from the boring Oscar bait non-sense. Ultimately, its message is one of love and understanding that can carry forward even through the War To End All Wars.

Jonesy: I'm so glad Speilberg is back to his old self. The last time we saw him, we were subjected to nuking the fridge in Indiana Jones 4. WAR HORSE takes him back to a subject he knows so well and has perfected through the years: war and relationships. However, we weave in and out of different parts of Europe during The Great War as we follow an innocent horse, Joey, as he tries to survive.

We're introduced to Joey through the eyes of his owner, Albert (Irvine). Joey isn't the best horse around, but Albert sees the potential and the spirit in him, and the duo develop a strong bond. Now I've never had an animal myself, but I've witnessed friends with their animals, and like my cohort mentioned, there's an intangible connect that a human and animal can develop. So, depending on how much you buy into Albert and Joey's bond, determines how powerful the movie is. For me, I completely was on board, thus had a powerful catharsis during the final act.

Since the movie follows Joey through the war, the plot is very episodic. Throughout each adventure, Joey finds someone to connect with, then through different circumstances, he's moved to the next person/place. There's not much time spent with any of the characters, even Albert disappears for the better part of the middle section, so it's difficult to get attached to most of the characters. Thus, Joey becomes our constant, and it's a difficult task to buy into an animal character unless it is animated or has a constant human companion. Spielberg was able to make Joey into an actual character where we could understand his feelings and emotions. (And with no Andy Serkis' Ceasar performance required). It's a risky move that paid off in my eyes.

Another strength is the absolute breathtaking scenery captured during the film. The movie takes us from sprawling French landscapes to the dirty trenches of the front lines. The whole sequence at the front lines was masterful, and now Spielberg, having mastered most of WWII, has mastered WWI.

The movie will be a crowd pleaser. Many may write off the movie as boring and schmaltzy; however, the real heart of the film explores the relationship between Albert and Joey and the lengths Albert would go to protect his best friend, and if you see this and it doesn't touch at least one heart string, I might worry about you.

We were lucky enough that after we watched this movie, Spielberg was featured in a live streaming Q&A session with was provided by MSN. Fans from around the world in over 120 countries/territories submitted questions through a live-chat function.  Check out the full interview:


  1. Thanks Angela for the wonderful review.  I agree that if people don't belive they can get attached to an animal, then I feel sorry for them.  The book was so good that I've reae it twice and feel the closeness of Albert and the others who meet Joey can be a real thing.

  2. I want to read the book, and I'm really curious about the stage production.