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Movie ReviewsRating: 4.5 of 5 yaps

War Horse

For a male weepie, “War Horse” doesn’t shy away from what it is. Most such films hide behind a veneer of sports or other manly pursuits in spinning a tale designed to reduce every guy watching it to sobs.

But Steven Spielberg’s new drama has all the ingredients: fathers and sons struggling to relate, brothers caught up in conflict, soldiers trading kindness amidst the bloodletting, gentle grandfathers and, especially, boys and their beloved animals.

Tears, commence being expertly jerked.

(This is not to imply that women won’t weep at it; I’m sure they will, in bucketfuls. It’s just this is the rare weepie specially designed to stimulate Y-chromosome tear ducts.)

What “War Horse” does not have is a romantic component, and for that I am grateful. It’s so tiresome to sit through Hollywood movies that seem to throw in a love interest for no reason at all other than brazen demographic appeal (see “Captain America: The First Avenger” for an especially egregious example).

Despite its nearly 2½-hour run time, the movie does not dally unnecessarily on pitching unneeded woo or anything else.

The titular horse is Joey, the finest thoroughbred in all of England, who was bought for a princely sum by a broken-down old drunk of a farmer (Peter Mullan). Alas, as a result of shelling out 30 guineas for the dappled colt, the farmer does not have the money to pay his sniveling landlord (David Thewlis), who desired the horse for himself.

Of course, wiry thoroughbreds are not terribly useful for plowing fields, but the farmer’s headstrong son, Albert (Jeremy Irvine), insists he can train Joey to pull a tiller. This sets off the first of many great love affairs, with Joey the perpetual object of affection.

World War I arrives, and Joey is sold off to the British cavalry, breaking Albert’s heart. Luckily, the lieutenant who purchases the horse to be his personal mount (Tom Hiddleston) is fine and upstanding, and promises to honor Joey with the same affection Albert did.

Alas, many things go awry during wartime. Over the next four years, Joey finds himself changing masters frequently, with prospects that rise and fall with the capricious whims of war.

For a time, he is under the charge of a kindly teenage German soldier (David Kross) and his underage brother. Later, he comes into the embracing arms of a young French girl (Celine Buckens) and her wise, nurturing grandfather (Niels Arestrup).

But Joey also gets conscripted into toting massive cannons, a duty where most horses only last a month or two before collapsing and receiving a merciful bullet. And he becomes trapped in the horrors of the trench war — a nightmarish landscape of mud, barbed wire and blood.

Based on the novel by Michael Morpurgo, the screenplay by Lee Hall and Richard Curtis — which also draws inspiration from the Broadway play that won a raft of Tony awards earlier this year — hits all the expected beats. But despite these rarely arriving without much surprise (one knows exactly how the film will end the entire way), they still hold a rapturous emotional pull — assisted by John Williams’ stirring score of lush strings.

Visually, “War Horse” is quite arresting. Spielberg and his longtime cinematographer, Janusz Kaminski, intentionally strike an audacious note, composing scenes of suffused color and almost painterly beauty. The effect is theatrical, with the artifice of the visuals drawing the movie out of the grim reality of war and into something like fairy-tale lightness.

Because, ultimately, “War Horse” is a children’s movie, or something very much like it, it appeals more to the senses and the heart than the mind. Eventually, one has to choose whether to submit to its blatant, wonderfully sad manipulations. I’m glad I did.

4.5 Yaps

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10 Responses to “War Horse”

  1. j.c.k. says:

    this movie was suprisingly good! once, you started watching the beginning, you were hooked!

  2. Victor Wakley says:

    This was a great movie – one of Speilberg’s best yet! I really enjoy period movies and this one was better than expected.

  3. barbara says:

    waited months for the movie to come out-saw it twice-on christmas and on new years-seeing it on the big screen the second time really made a huge difference–spielberg said the movies is about the "land" and is meant to be seen on the big screen and not on dvd–if you want to learn more about the film–go to youtube and view spielberg’s 54 minute Q&A interview–if you love horses–it’s a must see–even though it’s a war movie–you don’t see any bloody scenes–it’s very tastefully done–music by john williams is beautiful and heartfelt–the audience clapped at the end–it’s a movie for every member of the family–young and old–i can’t wait to go see the play in new york–watch the youtube clips on the unbelievable horse puppets used in the play made by the hand spring puppet company–the play has been at the national theatre in london for years–after spielberg read the book and then saw the play–he was hooked–the book and the movie were heartfelt and very sad–i’m sure the play is just as moving–enjoy!!!

  4. Shannon Criss says:

    EXcellent movie, but if you are an animal lover, you might have issues with the animals being harmed/injured. Overall, it was an excellent movie and a must see.

  5. Jeff says:

    This was a good coming of age movie. I thoroughly enjoyed it. My 20 y.o. son only liked the war scenes. I don’t think he got the story set-up in the first part of the film. It was classic and reminded me of the "old" western films that I grew up on. It was fun, which cannot be said about too many movies today.

  6. Deanna Rushforth says:

    I have heard this is such a great movie – a must see movie. I think it will be one I venture out this weekend for. I love the comments above they help influenced me on this movie.

  7. amy says:

    i would classify ‘war horse’ as a love story…between a boy and his horse…more heart wrenching and gripping than boy meets girl.

  8. Denise says:

    Okay, now this sounds like a "good movie" I haven’t been tempted to go to the movies in over 2 months by any of the movies at the theater, but I will have to check this one out and I’m sure my husband will be delighted to take me on a movie date…..:)

  9. Darrell Riley says:

    I just read where they shot it on film instead of digital, leading to the "scenes of suffused color and almost painterly beauty." Sometimes "old school" is the best.