HT Schuyler: War Horse Review

Posted: December 30, 2011 by htschuyler in HT Schuyler's Movie Reviews

Rated PG for intense scenes of war violence.

Directed by: Steven Spielberg.

Starring: Jeremy Irvine, Peter Mullan, Emily Watson, David Thewlis, Tom Hiddleston, Eddie Marsan and Niels Arestrup.

What do you get one you get one of the greatest directors of our time, mixed with a story set in a different time period than the present, with a few big actors but most lesser known, and have an obnoxious run time? You get War Horse, AKA Give Me The Oscar. Okay that’s a little harsh, but watching the trailer for this movie all I could think was “Holy crap that looks boring.” It looked like the typical “good movie” that the Oscar’s seem to eat up. That being said, I had to keep in mind that it was by Steven Spielberg, the director of some of my favourites, Jaws, Raiders of the Lost Ark, etc. So I did my best to go into the movie with an open mind, and what did I get? Well, let’s find out…

The movie starts off with the birth of our main character, Joey. And yes, I am referring to the horse. That is something that needs to be made very clear; the horse IS the main character. Forget about the humans, as they’re not really all that important, because it’s the horse that really matters to the plot and overall development of the story. The horse is later bought by Ted Narracott (Peter Mullan), who for some reason felt he needed that horse in particular. His young son Albert (Jeremy Irvine) takes a liking to the horse, and the two create an unbeatable bond and have many a whimsical adventures together…or at least they would have, but instead Ted sells Joey to an army captain (played by Tom Hiddleston) who takes him off to fight with him in World War I. Through a series of events, some sad, some lucky, Joey travels across the war, meets new friends, and attempts to reconnect with his true owner as the brutal war rages on around him.

The acting is pretty good throughout, but as I mentioned, I really didn’t care all that much for the human characters, because the horse was really the only character I cared about. It seems weird to congratulate an animal on it’s acting, but it was pretty damn good! Jeremy Irvine does a good job as the determined son, and Peter Mullan is good as the conflicted father. Emily Watson is not given a whole lot to do, but she is very good none the less playing the caring mother. David Thewlis has a small role, but he does a great job playing the douche bag land owner, and Tom Hiddleston is good as the caring and wary army captain. The only other actors that are really on long enough to make a significant difference are the young girl Emilie (Celine Buckens) and her grandfather (Niels Arestrup). They are both very good, and display the feeling of safety and humanity that is otherwise lacking in Joey’s journey.

The Good:

The film is brilliantly directed, but of course we’d expect nothing less from Spielberg, and there were two set pieces that absolutely blew me away. Despite the films dark and gritty overtones, most locations are colourful and cheery, but once we see our characters go into “No Man’s Land”…it gets dark. There is a brilliant scene were we see soldiers running through the barracks, taking on enemy fire and seeing their friends fall left and right. It’s a brutal vision of war, reminiscent of another Spielberg war film, Saving Private Ryan. The second set piece is fast paced one man race with Joey running through “No Man’s Land” with guns firing and danger all around. It’s a heart pounding scene with a shocking conclusion. Despite the films run time, I was never bored, and was constantly invested in the story. The story of Albert trying to reconnect with Joey (though predictable) was very sweet and touching, and it had a nice, emotional conclusion. The large variety of locations was interesting, and there were some beautiful sets and designs that really gave the movie an authentic feel.

The Bad:

My biggest flaw with this film is pretty simple; it’s predictable. This is not an uncommon theme for films these days, but it still bugs me every time. I’m not saying there isn’t any originality to found here, because there is, but you have a decent idea of what’s going to happen after the first few scenes. Everything plays out just like you’d expect, and the ending felt very generic and bland. Another thing that seemed fine at first but became tedious after the first hour was, bizarrely enough, the score. John Williams (who does the score) is a very talented composer, and he’s done some great work, but my biggest problem with it here (and it’s the same for Jaws) is that it’s overused and comes in at the wrong moments. The music practically never stopped, and it added a bizarre, surreal feeling to the film that really took me out of the story and distracted me from what was going on. Plus, the score tries so hard to make what is happening seem epic, and all it really does it annoy you. The only other complaint that I can think of is just that it’s not for everyone. If your bored easily, stay far away from this movie, because there are plenty of dull scenes and you have to wait patiently for the action. Also, there are a few scenes that made no damn sense (why do you need a tank to take down a horse?) and the only purpose they served was to create a suspenseful scene to put the characters in danger. Also, some of the subplots seemed out of place and pointless, and were over so fast you wondered why they were even there.

In Conclusion:

Despite its flaws, this is still a very good film. It’s not one of Spielberg’s best, or one of the best of the year, but it’s enjoyable for what it’s worth, and the great locations and action, engrossing protagonist and emotional moments really make this film a lot better than I expected. It took me by surprise, and delivered a much more interesting film than I thought possible after watching the trailer. If you think it might be your thing, check it out. Recommended.


  1. Matt Stewart says:

    I can imagine this one being predictable, my biggest fear is that it will make a run at the Oscars just because of how sentimental it is.

    Good review!

  2. CMrok93 says:

    Without a doubt, this is Spielberg trying his hardest to manipulate the hell out of his audience but it somehow works and brought me into the story despite some of the very corny moments. Great review HT.

  3. Why do you need a tank to take down a horse? – LOL. I feel like I missed an opportunity by not thinking of this criticism myself. :D GOOD one.

    My main complaint was the heavy handed sentimentality. I mean, its pretty suffocating at times…

    But at the end of the day I think I wind up at about the same place as you did. Nicely done HT!

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