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Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

All my aimless thoughts, ideas, and ramblings, all packed into one site!

War Horse (2011)


Damn this kid really loves this horse. I mean he reaaaaaaaaaally loves this horse.

This is a tale of a horse named Joey who is remarkable that he starts off just a little guy in England to then be transported off into the war in France. His owner, Albert (Jeremy Irvine) goes all-over-the-world to come and find him as Joey goes throughout the world, meeting new people and gaining new life experiences.

What director Steven Spielberg has always been able to do is tug at our heart-strings no matter what the story may be. Here, he tries a little too hard for that but in the end it’s too hard to hate on a Spielberg.

The problem right off the bat with this flick was that it gets very corny, very early. You get these moments where we see just how amazing Joey is as he can row out a field, or follow his owner just by hearing a simple bird-call, or even just by walking over a piece of wood and then a huge sweeping score comes in just to let you know how magical and beautiful these moments are when in reality they are just plain and simply cheesy. I think I got the fact that Joey was a horse that was unlike any other, after about the first 10 minutes but the film just kept hammering away at this and it becomes an annoyance after awhile.

Another problem with this flick that I actually think Spielberg ran into himself was the idea of how and who was going to make this appeal to everyone. On one hand you have this very emotional story about a horse who goes through everything that is adapted from a Tony-winning Broadway play, but on the other hand you also have this very grim and disturbing tale with soldiers being killed left-and-right and horses being put away in a not so happy matter after there is no use for them anymore. What I’m trying to say here is that it’s pretty hard to center a film out there that seems like it’s for the whole family, when you have these certain darker moments that may scare away the younger people of the family.

This problem is what leads Spielberg to making a very tame film that gets by with clichés and eye-rolling moments. Take for instance the scenes between the grandfather (Niels Arestrup) with his granddaughter are scenes filled with dialogue that should be playful and come out a bit corny especially when the grandfather tells her a story about a bird flying home, which seemed totally cheesy especially considering the fact that the grandfather was kind of being a dick to her also. There are also plenty of other moments where this film just totally flames you with the manipulative moments that are supposed to make you feel something incredible but instead usually just make you want to punch whoever wrote this film.

However, when it comes to Spielberg, this guy always seems to come out on top no matter what it is that he does. The one element to this film that makes it the most watchable throughout all of these cheesy moments is the beautiful look this film has. Spielberg gives this film the epic scenery it deserves and with so many beautiful colors coming at you in every scene, it’s almost too hard to look away. Spielberg is not only just great in showing how beautiful this film can be but also very gritty as the film starts to get darker as we get more into the war which not only show Spielberg’s fine attention to detail but also how he is able to actually capture the feel of WWII but also WWI, which means that the Vietnam War is only about two movies away from being covered.

The film also shows that even though Spielberg tries to manipulate the hell out of his audiences, he still has that sympathetic bone in his body to make us care about what he is showing us on screen. The whole story basically shows Joey being the horse-version of ‘Forrest Gump’, going from one owner to another and each story somehow getting better and better as it goes on. What this horse Joey goes through is hard to watch sometimes but always made me feel something not just by how great he is, but just how useful he is even though he’s just viewed at as another horse. I’m not going to try to get into the whole “all living things should be treated the same” speech that it seems like I’m leading myself into but regardless of that, the story of Joey will make you feel something deep down inside of you and it’s all thanks to Spielberg because he always knows how to make anybody feel something.

It seems like every person who has seen this film or reviewed it is mentioning the no-man’s land scene between the British soldier and the German soldier where they meet to free Joey from barbed-wire and it really is worth mentioning apart from this flick. This scene is probably one of the best that has been in a Spielberg film in the past 10 years and it shows just how well he is able to show two conflicts being calmed down or resolved just by simply taking it easy or even just coming together to help a certain someone or something that may be in harm’s way. It’s a very powerful scene and one that makes this stand-out from recent war films.

Something else that Spielberg does here that really works is how he barely uses any big-names for his cast but that works incredibly well for the film since it keeps our minds on Joey. Jeremy Irvine is good as Albert and gives him this innocent boy act that works and makes us feel for his character when him and Joey actually get separated; Emily Watson is probably the most familiar face as his mother, and she’s great as well; and Tom Hiddleston is also very good as Captain Nicholls, even though some people may not be able to get past the fact that it’s Loki playing a British war Captain. There are many other performers here but nobody else that really stands out except for Irvine, and even he isn’t anything all that memorable.

Consensus: War Horse is heavy-handed, corny, and built on upon tons and tons of clichés, but somehow Spielberg is able to make this story heart-warming with a beautiful look, and some very good scenes that will make you feel more for this story as it goes along.

7.5/10=Rental!!

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27 responses to “War Horse (2011)

  1. Scott Lawlor December 28, 2011 at 10:01 am

    Happy New Year matey!! I missed my pre screening of this one. (I seem to be doing that a lot lately)

    Looks like a rental to me!

  2. Snow December 28, 2011 at 12:24 pm

    I loved it! Amazing story, very emotional.

  3. Maggie Hames December 28, 2011 at 1:37 pm

    Your consensus sums up the film and a lot of Spielberg’s work. He loves the corn and has rarely hidden that love in his work; seems like this is ultimately a very typical Spielberg experience, which ain’t hay. He’s a great storyteller, but he’s not out to rock the foundations of your values. If anything, he’s out to confirm the viewer’s basic goodness in a Norman Rockwell way.

  4. Pete December 28, 2011 at 2:03 pm

    Hmmm still not sure if this is worth a trip to the cinema. Sounds good(ish) but I loved the play and sounds like Spielberg’s not on top form here.

  5. Nikki December 28, 2011 at 3:22 pm

    Hmm, good write-up. Yeah, I’ve been going back and forth on whether to see this one or not, and it sounds like I was right to hesitate. Even the trailer just seemed so fluffy and cringey. But I’m glad to hear there are some truly good moments in this film. I mean, it IS Spielberg. I might rent it down the road.

    Nice job! :)

  6. Texas Susan December 28, 2011 at 5:12 pm

    We really liked “War Horse” and think it’s best seen on the big screen. You can’t help but root for both Joey and Albert (which is so Spielberg). I especially loved the ending (glad I had a Kleenex handy).

  7. scarletsp1der December 28, 2011 at 6:33 pm

    Thank you for a review that doesn’t automatically place this film at a perfect score simply because of the “Spielberg” aspect!

    I still haven’t seen this one yet, not big on too many animal movies, but I will be seeing it, now with a little bit more grounded expectations! Nice review!

  8. rorydean December 28, 2011 at 11:23 pm

    Indeed – the corn field is a frequent problem for Spielberg but not exclusive to this film. You cover some solid ‘issues’ and as you point out, War Horse is often over worked to the point of cliche but it’s funny when the cliche is coming from the person who did it the first time before it was a cliche. Lets not forget he’s among the first to create the blockbuster epic which relies on familiar themes and romanticized ideals to punch up the action, to hook the audience long enough for the mechanical shark to convincingly eat the boat. It’s easy to forget Spielberg’s made a career out of doing the same thing with little changes – shark, horse, alien on a bicycle – and yet we expect he’d do it any other way. Don’t get me wrong, I thought the camera mounted plow was ridiculous but it is what it is. He does catapult us into the fray as it were, into bulk of the story after that and the rest of the film is considerably faster paced. I agree with your assessment of the family friendly war scenes – there’s an awful lot of death, dying and dismemberment but hey, Spielberg loves to hate war so much. I think you could argue the point that he does a pretty good job of moving around, stretching it out, polishing the sharp edges and covering up the particularly graphic stuff long enough so if you’re a kid and you have to look away or your mom drops the popcorn bucket to block the explosion you don’t miss anything important. I see your view on the grandfather/granddaughter vignette and maybe I just wanted to like it, so it didn’t bother me as much as it seems to have bothered you. It is interesting how effective the film is overall despite such blatant romanticizing, and given that he’s really trying to appeal to the broadest demographic it is in and of itself almost impossible these days – lets face it, audiences who loved/liked/or just enjoyed something like Transformers are probably going to have trouble with the lengthy first act, while someone more interested in character and relationships will no doubt stumble over the use of the loosely connected vignettes. It’s like just when you start to care about the little girl and her horses we’re off to something else or the two German youths end up feeling like bookends. Then again who else but Spielberg would take a chance on a four-legged protagonist, gamble that a lack of star power wouldn’t immediately alienate those needing their beloved favorite faces to root for, or do it all under the constraints of PG13 – which I could go on and on about ruining films these days – and in the end we find ourselves rooting for Joey and damn it if we’re not happy to see him get back home!

  9. Army Amy December 29, 2011 at 12:26 am

    You liked the no-man’s land scene? That was just a little too much cheese for my taste. I think I’m jaded because I wanted the dark aspects of the movie to be even darker. It makes the eventual triumph that much sweeter.*

  10. saw see December 29, 2011 at 3:16 am

    “—The KOREAN WAR, and NOT the long gone world wars,
    is rapidly emerging as –the– pivotal conflict of the 20th century
    viz a viz the 21st.”

    Franchise slum Hollywood continues to deliver PC moral
    alibis for itself while BURYING all consciousness of the
    20th –30th –40th –50th and NOW 60th Anniversary
    of the

    ————————-KOREAN WAR————————.

    NOT GOOD

  11. elizabeth December 29, 2011 at 2:34 pm

    I think it’s all subjective. Everyone brings their own experience to the movie. (We’re like the three bears.) I think people need to remember this was originally a children’s story. And I for one am glad Spielberg kept it a feel-good family-rated movie.

  12. cuttingedgecreativity December 29, 2011 at 9:08 pm

    Already made plans to see this with some people tomorrow, which is why I haven’t already gone and watched it and reviewed it yet. Your review sounds basically like everything I’ve pretty much been expecting it to be. I’m kind of a corny person myself though, so I’m sure I’ll happily immerse myself in the corniness.

    Also, while I do know I am quite easily amused, this was probably one of my most favorite parts of your review: “. . . it’s pretty hard to center a film out there that seems like it’s for the whole family, when you have these certain darker moments that may scare away the younger people of the family.” Lol, I was just imagining little children being scared away by a movie. /endofmyprobablysemistrangecomment

    Great review as always! :p

  13. Jack December 29, 2011 at 9:55 pm

    Very fun and, to me, very accurate review, Dan the Man! (You made me laugh a couple of times, which I always appreciate.) And thanks so much for reading mine over at Media Darlings!

  14. sallanscorner December 29, 2011 at 11:13 pm

    Thanks for visiting my site – I like your review of “War Horse” and I look forward to reading your other reviews.
    I do agree with some of the other comments about the story originally being a children’s book – it would be interesting to read that book and see what details Spielberg kept, and what he didn’t use.

  15. Soldiers' Mail December 30, 2011 at 2:16 pm

    It is nice to see a current treatment of the Great War which is now largely forgotten but yet so formative for the 20th Century. The juxtaposition of horses and 19th Century tactics with mechanized warfare was haunting. From the soldier’s point of view, dead horses behind the lines were a great source of extra food if they were not contaminated with gas: http://worldwar1letters.wordpress.com/2011/12/30/somewhere-in-france-7101918/

  16. Mike December 30, 2011 at 4:35 pm

    One thing I think is overlooked is the fact that it’s based on a play that’s based on a childrens book. Most of my feelings about this film (and Spielberg in general) are similar but for War Horse, putting it in the context of a childrens book adaptation had me looking at it a bit differently.

  17. Pingback: Review: War Horse « Scarletsp1der's Blog

  18. NeverTooEarlyMP January 6, 2012 at 4:58 am

    Nice review Dan. I did get a Forrest Gump feeling at one point too, so I’m glad you mentioned that. It also felt a bit like Saving Private Ryan–with Matt Damon being replaced by a Horse!

  19. The Blog of Big Ideas January 28, 2012 at 3:24 pm

    Very interesting review.
    I was thinking you were going to give it a lower rating than you finally did just by looking at how corny and cliche you think the film was (which I totally expected just from looking at the trailer).
    This one is a film I will probably wait for until it comes out for rental. The concept just does not sound appealing at all, and if it were not for Spielberg being at the helm, I would have definitely skipped this one altogether without giving it much thought.

    Niels

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