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A movie directed by Steven Spielberg

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The Tale of the Mighty Steed

  • Dec 27, 2011
Star Rating:

War Horse must have been a tremendous challenge for director Steven Spielberg, as the film is a balancing act between two of his well-established styles, namely overt sentimentalism and horrific depictions of war. On paper, this sounds like a recipe for disaster. On screen, it comes across beautifully. Don’t ask me how he made it work, because I have absolutely no idea. All I know is, like Spielberg’s own E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, this is one of those rare films that can positively and without a hint of facetiousness be described using clichéd terms such as “crowd pleaser” and “tearjerker.” I cannot deny that these are innately manipulative. But then again, that’s sort of how stories are. Besides, we obviously enjoy being manipulated to a degree. If we didn’t, there would be no reason to go to the movies at all.
Based on Michael Morpurgo’s 1982 novel and its 2007 stage adaptation, the film takes place in early twentieth-century Europe, mostly during World War I. It begins, however, in the years just prior. The opening scene sets the tone; in the pastures of Devon, England, a mare gives birth to a colt while a teenage boy named Albert Narracott (Jeremy Irvine) watches from a distance in wonderment. A short time later, Albert’s father, a shellshocked drunk named Ted (Peter Mullan), purchases the colt at auction. He couldn’t really afford it, but his rival bidder was the mean-spirited Lyons (David Thewlis), who just happens to own the farmland Ted and his family have leased. Of course, everyone around Ted thinks he has made a mistake. The horse is spirited and not at all suitable for pulling a plow.

Ted’s wife, Rose (Emily Watson), is also upset by the purchase, fearing it will ruin the family financially. Albert, on the other hand, immediately bonds with the horse, which he names Joey. He becomes convinced that Joey can be trained to work the fields, which will allow his family to plant their crops and earn enough money to pay their rent, which has already been extended. Although there are a few well written scenes showing Joey proving his worth as a farm animal, this is quickly overshadowed by the outbreak of war, at which point Joey is sold to the cavalry. As he’s being led away from the village during an almost jubilant procession, Albert ties his father’s army ribbon to Joey’s reins and tearfully promises him that, come hell or high water, they will find each other again.
And so begins Joey’s extraordinary journey as a war horse, one that will carry through the next four years. He will be shipped to France, promoted as the horse for Captain Nicholls of the British Army (Tom Hiddleston), turned into a corpse transporter for the German Army, aid two young German soldiers (David Kross and Leonard Carow) as they attempt to escape, find his way into the home of a sickly French girl (Celine Buckens) and her overprotective grandfather (Niels Arestrup), and finally be captured by the Germans and forced to pull heavy machinery with dozens of other horses. Even with intense sequences of people being shot and stabbed in the heat of battle, this is singlehandedly the most heartbreaking scene of the entire film. These animals are battered, bloody, and exhausted. A few will collapse and instantly get a bullet in the head, adding to the piles of dead horse bodies littering the sides of the road.

That some of the film is deeply unpleasant, there can be no argument. But you know Spielberg: Even in the darkest times, there’s always a glimmer of hope. And blast it all, isn’t that why we love him so much? That he’s able to see the good in every situation, and that he believes in happy endings? Spielberg is the kind of filmmaker who has steadfastly retained that childlike sense of wonder and optimism, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. In fact, it might even be healthy. Cynical writers and directors have made countless great films, but really, how often do we need to be reminded that life is difficult? I think we’re better off being reminded that, in spite of life’s harshness, the capacity for happiness exists.
On that note, I’m not interested in an argument over how implausible the story is. For a few minutes, I found myself trying to logically analyze a climactic scene in which Joey is freed from a tangled mass of barbed wire; the circumstances, not to mention the opposing ideologies of Joey’s saviors, would make such a thing next to impossible. But then I came to my senses – this is a movie that works on the emotions, not the brain. I wouldn’t have had it any other way. We tend to be a bit caviler with genre labels like buddy film and love story, which is a shame because, in doing so, they eventually lose their power. War Horse is the most profound kind of buddy film and love story, and it makes absolutely no difference that one character is human while the other is not. It’s a celebration of the bonds we make – and hopefully, of the bonds we share for the rest of our lives.


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June 24, 2012
Tried my hardest to like this, but I just couldn't.
June 24, 2012
What can I say? I respond well to Spielberg's positive style of filmmaking.
December 27, 2011
I merely skimmed your review since I want to be taken by surprise when I see this in the next few days. I don't think any major release will be coming out this New Year's weekend, so I can catch up with this one and "Hugo"....though I need to see some Indies too. I'll be back to comment further once I've seen it.
December 27, 2011
I hope you enjoy this one, along with Hugo.
More War Horse (2011 film) reviews
review by . September 28, 2012
posted in Movie Hype
A long faced look at war
More recently as Steven Spielberg has become a more active producer, his directing credits are becoming less common.      In 2011 he produced the brillant Super 8, one of my favorites, directed by JJ Abrams, the creator, writer and occasional director of Lost, and the recent Star trek. Super 8 is a great nostalgia piece evoking the early eighties, a movie within a movie, and an homage to Spielberg's earliest movies. Spielberg also produced Cowboys and Aliens, a somewhat weird …
review by . June 24, 2012
posted in Movie Hype
** out of ****    Allow me, for a moment, to establish a few of my reviewer biases that I might not have already established in the past. What I like in a movie is entertainment, however it may be delivered; be it through a thought-provoking story, strong central characters, or a satisfying visual style. What I dislike is familiarity, simplicity (although sometimes I can let it slide), and ignorance. And now it all boils down to what a truly hate: forced sentimentality, the manipulation …
review by . July 18, 2012
posted in Movie Hype
Were it not for war, many a man's needs would be unfulfilled.
War Horse - directed by Steven Spielberg   Starring - Jeremy Irvine, Emily Watson and Tom Eddleson   Based on the 1982 novel by Michael Morpurgo      This WWI drama tells the story of a young man in the English countryside - Albert and a remarkable horse.      Albert was a boy when he witnessed the horse's birth and its early years of growth. Then the horse went on the market and, to Albert's amazement, his father-a farmer barely …
review by . December 29, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
Three hours about a horse
WAR HORSE Written by Lee Hall and Richard Curtis Directed by Steven Spielberg Starring Jeremy Irvine, Emily Watson, Tom Hiddleston and fourteen different horses as “Joey”   The other day, I told a friend of mine that I had never in my life ever ridden a horse. She gasped in horror as if I had missed out on one of life’s most rewarding experiences. I’m not against the idea of it, although I can’t imagine horses enjoy that kind of weight on them for hours at …
review by . December 22, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
While talking to my friend about War Horse, he told me that he initially thought there was some deeper meaning to the title; it wasn’t until later that he found out that the movie is literally about a horse in a war. Any kind of serious discussion about the movie from that point on was impossible. This makes the review all that more difficult to write because Steven Spielberg takes his story very seriously. You know the one about a horse, in a war.      Steven Spielberg …
review by . January 19, 2012
posted in Movie Hype
In Dartmoor, England a teenage boy named Albert Narracott (Jeremy Irvine), watches in fascination as a thoroughbred colt is born. The baby horse is a beautiful animal and watching the equine run through the fields soon becomes Albert's new hobby. The day comes when the horse is taken to auction. Albert's father, Ted (Peter Mullan) comes to market to buy a plow horse, but when he sees the magnificent beast and spots his landlord smirking on the other side of the fence he ends up paying a …
review by . December 18, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
'War Horse' 'Two Jews On Film' Have Dry Eyes Watching Spielberg's Latest Epic (Video)
         By Joan Alperin Schwartz      Albert (Jeremy Irvine) a young boy, who lives on a rented farm in Devon with his mom (Emily Watson) and his dad (Peter Mullen).  Albert has a horse named Joey and Joey...is one awesome horse and the family couldn't be happier.  Until...          WW! breaks out, and poor Joey is sold to the British cavalry and shipped off to France.  Luckily this reallynice Britis …
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Chris Pandolfi ()
Ranked #5
Growing up a shy kid in a quiet suburb of Los Angeles, Chris Pandolfi knows all about the imagination. Pretend games were always the most fun for him, especially on the school playground; he and his … more
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A WW1 Action Film Based On The Award Winning Play
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