Friday, December 23, 2011

REVIEW: War Horse

War Horse

Jeremy Irvine, Joey the Horse


December 25, 2011

Steven Spielberg

DreamWorks Pictures,
Touchstone Pictures (Disney)

2 hours 26 minutes



I've been telling many of my acquaintances that 2011 may be the equivalent to 1993 for director Steven Spielberg. Not only did Spielberg win Best Visual Effects at the Oscars for 'Jurassic Park' in '93, but he also won Best Picture for the acclaimed holocaust drama 'Schindler's List.' Replace 'Jurassic Park' with 'The Adventures of Tintin,' and replace 'Schindler's List' with 'War Horse,' based on both the 1982 British children’s novel by Muchael Morpurgno and the 2007 Tony Award winning play. 'War Horse' tells the story of a horse originally named "Joey" by his owner Albert, who is sold to fight in World War I in 1914. The film depicts both the horse's journey over Europe throughout the war, and, in the film's final 70 minutes or so, Albert's struggle to fight in the war and possibly get Joey back home. Only three movies this entire year had me on the edge of crying in my seat, and this one had me on the edge of bawling my eyes out! 'War Horse' is Steven Spielberg's return to his true form after his average works (except for 'Catch Me If You Can') from the previous decade. This is a triumphant movie that deserves to be seen by all generations.

Let me just tell you now that the sole character of the film is Joey, the horse.  No human in this film has a bigger role than the horse (played by two horses actually) himself.  In fact, the only other character in this movie who has the most screen time at the biggest part with Joey is Albert, played by newcomer Jeremy Irvine. Irvine is fantastic as Albert, despite coming off with a shaky start. The first time you see Albert, you sort of get the impression of him as being this eager teen who loves to follow baby Joey around. It's when his dad buys the horse that you see the true emotion of the character and how in love he is with the horse. Don't expect any awards to come for Irvine, but he does have the potential to really go the distance. As for Joey the Horse, the two horses they used for him are great. I think the Oscars should create an award exclusively for animal actors, exactly like the Palm Dog at Cannes. Joey the Horse is not even in the leagues of Uggy the Dog from 'The Artist,' but the horses playing Joey are able to give us the same emotions as any A-list actor could in a heartfelt performance. Anyone who goes to see this movie will undoubtedly fall in love with Joey and cry when he gets himself into peril. These two leads give audiences a love story to root and cheer for.

It's hard to really say who is the sole supporting actor to Jeremy Irvine and Joey the Horse, because the cast in this film acts more as an ensemble rather than depicting main leads from supporting actors. The ensemble cast includes David Thewlis of 'Harry Potter' fame, Tom Hiddleston of 'Thor' fame, and the always great Emily Watson. All of the supporting players are fantastic in this movie. Each character in this movie was properly designed to care for Joey and guide him to safety. Yes, that even includes the Germans he was with for a time. My favorite of the ensemble cast was a teen actress named Celine Burkens. I saw her as being the exact opposite of the persona of Hailee Steinfeld's Mattie Ross in last Christmas' surprise smash 'True Grit.' Burkens plays a sweet, angelic girl who wanted to care for Joey and the friend that accompanies him. I would have liked to see more of her character, as well as her grandfather who's played by French actor Niels Arestrup. Still, the entire ensembles of both German and British background all help this story come full circle for Albert and Joey.

I doubt many realize how important photography is in both films and pictures. You have to have the right exposure in order to make a picture something magical and worth as my photo teacher says "hanging on your wall." The cinematography in this movie is spectacularly gorgeous. Every single frame of this film is shot so beautifully that they might as well be called pure works of art. I even whispered to my father in the middle of this film "this movie looks so beautiful." The final 5 minutes of the film are shown to the audience in all reds, yellows, and oranges that I at first thought was a problem with the film reel. Then I realized why the last 5 minutes were shot that way, but I can't exactly share it because it goes into spoiler territory. Going back to what my photo teacher said, I would put about 80% of the frames of this film on my wall, because nobody can shoot a movie on such a wide and visceral scale than longtime Spielberg cinematographer Janusz KamiƄski.

Going back to the ensemble thing, there wasn't exactly a main character (apart from Albert and Joey) rather than an entire ensemble of people who become in contact with this extraordinary horse. Joey goes from Albert to fight with the British in WWI, and then he goes to the Germans to fight in the war, and so on. I felt that this was a very smart story technique because it showed us the audience both sides of the war from the point of view of Joey the horse. Spielberg showed us that each side of the war has a reason for fighting, and each side may not be as evil as you'd think. Both the British and the Germans were fighting so they could win WWI, not because of prejudice or anything like that.

In some ways this is a message to all people fighting for something in the world: you can always befriend an "enemy" despite personal differences in culture or life in general. I haven't seen the play of 'War Horse, nor have I read the 1982 book, but let me tell you that the film is structured so it plays out like several short stories taking place during WWI and stars Joey the horse. It kind of reminded me of the acclaimed book 'To Kill a Mockingbird,' which was also constructed like many short stories. I have no idea whether the book or play played out like it did in the film, but for me this was the strongest thing about the film, because we're able to view the stories of several different characters and how Joey changes their lives.

Christmas has a lot of competition when it comes to movies. You have highly anticipated films like 'The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo' and 'The Adventures of Tintin,' as well as lesser known flicks like 'We Bought A Zoo' and 'The Darkest Hour.' Of all of those films coming out, none of them compare to the emotional power of 'War Horse.' You don't need heavy gore to show the intensity of a situation, unlike 'Dragon Tattoo.' You don't need cutesy comedy to satisfy an audience for over two hours, like 'Zoo' does.  You also don't need a corny and unnecessary use of 3D, unlike the other two movies. All you need in order to fully enjoy this movie is an open mind, a properly positioned butt in your movie theater seat, and the willingness to cry in certain scenes.

The cast in this film is phenomenal, the script and story could not have been written better, the cinematography is award worthy, and the editing helps the short stories flow into each other with grace. I cannot stress to you how in love I am with this movie. I keep telling my buddies at school how great this movie is, and they just say in sarcasm, "Oh yeah I would really go see a movie about a horse." To them I say you're missing out on something great. If there's one movie this holiday season that both resonates and stays true to your heart for days after seeing it, that film is Steven Spielberg's 'War Horse.'


John Carter


  1. Great review but I don't think this film looks very special till, evoking review!

  2. Maybe it's just me but I thought all films are meant to be manipulative one way or another. The whole point of movies are to entertain by making you feel some kind of emotion, be it horror, joy, or sadness. To fault a film for intentionally try to make you feel something is rather stupid.


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