Thursday, December 22, 2011


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 a time. I have just never had the occasion and therefore, I have never had the chance to connect to one of these majestic creatures, like so many others. From what I understand, the bond between a person and a horse can be quite something but having no first hand experience with it, I have no idea why. And so, my lack of horse experience or appreciation may have unduly influenced my reading of Steven Spielberg’s WAR HORSE. Or maybe, it just wasn’t that great.

Based on both the original 1982 children’s novel by Michael Morpurgo and the 2007 stage play by Nick Stafford, WAR HORSE is the story of one remarkable journey, had by a horse. The horse, named Joey in the film, starts out born on a farm, and we are naturally present for that birth, and then, after being separated from his mother, is sold at auction in a pissing contest between a landlord and lis lessee. There, Joey must overcome his exquisiteness to become a work horse or the farmer will lose his land. Past that, he goes off to fight in the first World War and the film follows as he changes hands during his four years away from home. Some of the characters Joey meets along the way make for some tender and beautiful moments but given that the story is his, the perspective gets away from him all too often. A horse’s point of view is a little awkward but Spielberg should have reigned himself back in and focused more.

This horse movie is nearly three hours long and it is never clear what kind of movie we are actually watching. Spielberg is known for two types of filmmaking - family style blockbusters that are entertaining for all and graphic war films. WAR HORSE tries to be both of these films, which makes the experience a confusing one at times. The first hour, or at least it felt that way, is about Joey bonding with his young owner, Albert Narracott (relative unknown, Jeremy Irvine) and seeing if he truly can plow the field. The tone is light, the story tired and the shots somewhat plain considering the man behind the camera. Once he goes off to war, the tone changes drastically and the stylized violence Spielberg thrives on takes over, erasing all traces of family entertainment. Predictability follows and we wait for the horse to find his way home. We wait almost three hours ... for a horse.


Family-Friendly Product Reviews said...

This movie looks pretty good and I liked reading your review on it. I'm a sucker for horse movies and will probably check it out.

Family-Friendly Product Reviews

Joe said...

I am eager to see this movie, but I understand completely what the critic is saying. We rely on sentiment way too much in this country in our personal relationships, our literature, our movies and in our divorce courts. We need to reach for something deeper inside each of us, something rational and recognized mentally. Sentiment is cheap. But, I'm gonna love it, because I'll be seeing it with my daughter and granddaughter, and the grand is a little horse person. We will have a wonderful time!

Black Sheep said...

Thanks! I think WAR HORSE makes for a very bizarre family film experience given the range of sentiment and violence. I'm curious to see how it plays to younger audiences.