War Horse (2011) Review | Jamie Daily

War Horse (2011)
84th Academy Awards 2012
3/5 Stars
Nominated for 6 awards.
Nominated for Best Picture (Steven SpielbergKathleen Kennedy), Cinematography (Janusz Kiminski), Art Direction (Rick Carter, Lee Sandales), Music – Original (John Williams), Sound Editing (Richard Hymns, Gary Rudstrom), and Sound Mixing (Gary Rydstrom, Andy Nelson, Tom Johnson, Stuart Wilson).
Watched December 29, 2012.


What can I say about you, War Horse?  It is a technical genius and a simplistic, clichéd display of love and devotion that leaves half of the critics baffled and the other half in adoration.


Steven Spielberg will forever be a cinematic genius whose technicality in the art is boundless.  However, I have grown so accustomed to his polished cinematography and overall composition that I was less impressed with the technical aspect and therefore more distracted by the unlikely plot line.  It is simple in almost a bad way.  There was very little character depth and the actions of all but the horse (Joey) were extremely predictable.


Despite its shortcomings in story, I still enjoyed it, partially because I am a huge horse lover.  It is a war movie without the gore of today’s films.  Spielberg did not feel the need to show every battle field in detail and to draw out the exchange.  Instead, he took a much more simple, abstract approach that lets the audience know what has occurred but does not necessarily show the act itself.  This was one of my more favourite aspects of the film, which leads me to my viewing advice.


If you have the ability to suspend reality (something that most movie-goers should be well versed in) and accept the fact that War Horse is going to test you, then you should certainly see it.  It is a walking cliché–a tale of innocents on all sides, despite the gruesome war surrounding it, and the joy that is found despite the death, destruction, and separation.


Joey begins his life as a playful, half-thoroughbred who is bought at auction at a young age by a farmer who needs a plow horse.  Ted Narracott (Peter Mullan) was tempted by the astounding beauty of the horse, his landlord’s clear desire for the animal, and his drink.  His wife Rose (Emily Watson) is furious when he brings the young, small, untrained horse home, but his son Albert (Jeremy Irvine) is ecstatic.  He takes the horse on himself, names him, and trains him, and in one of the more unlikely bits of the film, plows an entire field with him in order to save his family’s farm.


Despite their efforts, the farm is still in jeopardy.  When World War I finally breaks upon them, Mr. Narracott sells the horse to a Captain James Nicholls (Tom Hiddleston).  Heartbroken, Albert vows to Joey that he will find him again one day.


It is soon after this that the most brilliant scene of the film occurs.  The Captain and his company are led to believe that a German camp lays close by, unsuspecting, and thus their calvary rides into it. They ride through the camp at full gallop but once they reach the woods at the other side, they are cut down thoroughly by machine guns.  Instead of watching the horses and their riders fall at extreme length, we instead see one shot of the riders charging at full gallop and in the next the horses are leaping over the guns–riderless.


Joey finds himself in German hands, and along with his gorgeous black stallion friend, jumps from master to master and from England to Germany to France and back again, much in the same way that Black Beauty would share his tale of owners.  He spends time on a French farm, pulling guns in the war, and even brings the entrenched British and German soldiers to a temporary truce as they try to free him from barbed wire.


It is not the most brilliant nominated film this year, but it is certainly deserving.  Although the end shots are certainly a sort of sentimental pride with Spielberg, as is evidenced by their drawn out screen time, the majority of his execution is so flawless that I longed for a dirtier edit and a more experimental cinematographer.  If you have missed War Horse somehow, I would certainly suggest watching it, especially if you are in a good mood and are willing to set aside your firm grasp on reality for some more innocent fun.



Sources: Fan PopAwards DailyDreamWorks StudiosIMDBRotten TomatoesNY TimesThe GuardianJohn Likes MoviesThe Best Picture Project

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