War Horse Movie Review

Decent movie, but don’t see this if you actually love horses.

This movie was actually better than I expected.  Sure, it’s Spielberg, but I had just been disappointed with Tintin and as masterful a storyteller as he is, he has a tendency to let his story dip into the sappy zone and hover there, like in E.T.  However, while the sap was there (lots of young boys snuggling horses) the story, after a sluggish start, really drew you in.

Spielberg appears to be using this production as a tool to show the horror of WWI like he did with Saving Private Ryan.  However, in spite of a much more terrible war (WWI was way more brutal than WWII.  WWI is why they created war crimes) it does not come even close to how well Private Ryan did.  The blame for this I put firmly on the PG-13 rating Spielberg bends bars to maintain.  I am not one of those guys who feels the need for gore and blood in everything, but the impact of a battle scene loses something when nothing brutal is shown.  Guys get shot and just fall to the ground.  One of the main characters gets caught in a gas attack and in the next scene, instead of showing him lying in a cot coughing himself to death (mustard gas) he has a bandage over his eyes.  There was none of the horrific desperate attempts to hold your own entrails in, or guys getting their limbs blown off.  It was almost sanitized, like a video game, and that sensitization kind of washes away a lot of the impact.

However, as kind as Spielberg was to his human characters he makes it up in his treatment of the horses.  Through a series of really good puppets and camera work with very little CGI he shows all kinds of horrible things happening to horses.  To be honest it was more than a little stomach turning, and I had to look away during a couple scenes.  A horse is a noble creature, and should not be shown in extreme pain and horrible situations.  I can’t actually call anything that happened animal cruelty, as none if it was malicious or intentional, but just really hard to watch.  This goes out to my horse loving friend Lauren in particular.  Don’t see this if you have a love of horses.

Anyway, the movie, with a few spoilers.  It follows the life of Joey, a thoroughbred horse born on a Scottish farm prior to WWI.  His birth is witnessed by young Albert Narracott (Jeremy Irvine-no other film roles), who takes an instant bond with him.  The horse goes up for auction and Alby’s drunken father Ted (Peter Mullan-Trainspotting, My Name is Joe, Boy A) makes the mistake of buying him for a very large amount.  This is going to cause them to lose the farm, literally, unless Alby can train Joey to pull a plow and can then plow the most rock filled field in all of Scotland.  He does so and all seems well until the crop is ruined from a storm.  Ted is forced to sell Joey to a cavalry officer (Tom Hiddleston-Loki from Thor, Midnight in Paris, Conspiracy), who takes him to France where he learns what happens when sword wielding cavalry charges machine guns.  Joey is captured by the Germans and put to use hauling ambulances.  He then goes through a long series of owner changing, from two German deserters, a French jam maker and his granddaughter, and a German artillery officer who seems to relish putting down injured horses.  He finally breaks free in a panic and runs out into No Man’s Land and gets caught up in the one scene I had the hardest time watching.  He gets rescued by a Scottish corporal with the help of a German infantryman (a love of horses supersedes the need to kill each other) and is eventually reunited with Alby, who apparently joined the infantry while all this was going on.  Some other drama goes on before the end.

The stars.  Decent if sappy story.  One star.  Amazing camera work and visuals.  Two stars.  While not graphic enough to really impact, the fighting did illustrate a lot of the horror of WWI.  One star.  The uniforms and equipment seemed correct, including the German spiked Kaiser helmets, and the entire film was very well within period.  One star.  This is something only a treadhead would appreciated, but they actually did show a rhomboid tank (I think it was a MkV Heavy, but they didn’t really show it off entirely).  I don’t know if they found a functional unit (there are a few in the world) or just built a replica, but really cool.  One star.  The horse handling, puppets and special effects were stunning.  One star.  I don’t want to get into it too much, but this movie did manage to draw out an emotional response from me.  One star.  Overall good movie.  Two stars.  Total: nine stars.

The black holes.  Stomach wrenching horse-in-pain scenes.  One black hole.  For the most part, all the characters seemed flat and uninteresting.  I don’t know if this was the writing or the fact there doesn’t actually seem to be a real protagonist.  The focal character changes every 15 minutes or so, never allowing you to connect with any of them, and Joey the horse does not show enough of a distinctive personality to really connect with.  For the most part he acts like a horse and a horse is a horse (of course, of course).  One black hole.  Each sub-character seemed to have a whole new sub plot that disappeared with that character.  One black hole.  What could have been a great R rated war movie got a PG-13 rating tied to its feet.  One black hole.  Total: four black holes.

So a grand total of five stars.  Decent movie in all regards, and well worth watching.  I will also say that the visuals are amazing, and if you don’t see it in a huge theater you will not get the full effect.  Go out and see it.  I don’t know how this would work as a date movie.  Sure, it has horses, but it also has a lot of other stuff that might turn a girl off.  She might respond well to the ending, but I personally don’t like to leave stuff like that to chance.

That’s it for now.  I have a freakishly busy weekend coming up (party, party, dinner with friends) and don’t know if I will get to see anything.  It might be Monday before I blog again.  (Party Like a Vulcan image courtesy of the Star Trek T Shirts).  Thanks again for reading.  Talk to you soon.


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