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War Horse

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War Horse - 27/4/2012 1:49:11 PM   


Posts: 8
Joined: 14/1/2009
War Horse
A mixed but loving review by Oliver Partington

ďI might hate you more but I wonít love you any less.Ē

With Saving Private Ryan, Steven Spielberg took a hard, brutal look at WWII. With the Indiana Jones films, he took a nostalgic look at the clear-cut, no shades of grey world of War. With Saving Private Joey (or War Horse to the likes of you) he takes a poetic look - though like most great poetry, it goes on a tad longer than it should. While the brutality and death is covered, they are only specks on a wider canvas - and thatís how Iíd best describe War Horse: a well-painted canvas. While still within the realm of reality, weíre treated to some iconic images and all the best ones seem influenced by the imagery of the original stage show. The film opens with a few beautiful sweeping shots of Devon (accompanied by the score of the ever reliable John Williams) which made even this city-boy pine for the country in the way that Lord of the Rings made the world pine for New Zealand. Long-term Spielberg collaborator Jansuz Kaminski has proven once again why he is the first name on the Schindlerís List directorís list when it comes to cinematography. Even in the horror of the trenches, Kaminski finds beauty and that is a skill indeed.

The film is not without its share of flaws however. Looking at the plot - itís a simple one, boy (named Albert Narracott) meets horse, Dad sells horse, boy goes looking for horse, boy finds horse. That much is obvious even from the trailer and itís not exactly wiggling with originality. As an audience, we donít take the viewpoint of the relatable, ernest boy (played ably by newcomer Jeremy Irvine) but the un-relatable horse - Joey himself. Now Iím not saying that the performance of Joey was substandard because it was fantastic. The work that must have gone into training the horse playing Joey (courtesy of Bobby Lovgren) is staggering. However, having the Joey as the POV was a mistake that the stage show could get away with, as the magic of the horses was in the puppetry and their sketch-like style. To compensate for our lack of involvement with Joey, the film spends far longer with each family and carers for Joey than the book or the show needed to (whatís that? A Steven Spielberg film that focuses on families?! Youíre kidding ...). The length is also a point of contention, it could have done with being about 20 minutes shorter - if it had clocked in a two-hours, Iíd be able to recommend it far more freely. One or two moments of Speilberg visual wit make the slower moments more pleasant. Note the German solider licking jam off his finger, totally oblivious of the important story-type stuff goes on.

The acting - with one or two exceptions - is wonderful. Spirited performances by the vastly underrated David Thewlis, up and comer Toby Kebbell and the ever-reliable Eddie Marsan. Unfortunately, although this is The Ginger Review, I have to give a fairly bad review on the only ginger actor in the whole thing! Matt Milne as Andrew, friend of Albert. His character is unnecessary and given all the worst lines. Poor bloke.

The best of the supporting cast, however, are the elder Narracotts played by Peter Mullan and Emily Watson and the French Grandfather played by Niels Arestrup - all do a suitably heart-warming job. All three were promoted from side-characters in the play to major players in the feature and the actors ramp up their game accordingly. Mullan in particular can tell more with a glance than some actors can with an entire Alan Bennett penned dramatic monologue. And on the writing, itís pretty decent. The dialogue has all the flare that you might expect from Richard Curtis. A small scene between a German and English soldier on the best way to free Joey from barbed wire had me grinning from ear to ear. Not to mention the quote I used above.

The main point of contention other reviewers have had for War Horse is the film's over-the-top sentimentality - an accusation you could also easily levy at the original stage production. The simple plot and the family at War time setting of the film does lend its self to this. To War Horseís credit, there are only a couple of instances where itís glaringly obvious or jarring. But when those moments come, you will feel like Speilberg is crouching over you with a pair of tweezers, determined to pluck out tears.

Perhaps Iím too much of Spielberg fan-boy to dislike the film, perhaps I wasnít as floored by the stage show enough to hold it in such reverence that the slightest change in story would have offended me. Maybe I was just in a good mood when I sat down to watch War Horse that I was more forgiving of its flaws. Either way, I liked War Horse - warts and all.

Review in a nutshell: Well-crafted but your bum will start to ache long before itís over.


From one film lover to another (few), check out my film review blog at - hope you enjoy!
Post #: 1
RE: War Horse - 27/4/2012 5:09:48 PM   


Posts: 1894
Joined: 30/9/2005
From: elsewhere
The film is okay, but best approached in a 'Black Beauty Goes to War, only the horse aint black' frame of mind, because other than a particularly wince inducing momentin the last act, the film is like a story for kids with characterisation so VERY VERY broad brush that you must endure chocolate boxy depiction of poverty and simple minded sentimentality for the film to work.

Not sure how it compares to the play, but the film is, apart from the aforementioned gruelling moment (itself resolved with a rather MaCartney Pipes of Peace turn of events that will either make you cry or vomit) it's very easy on the eye, and brain. The Bergster at his most Bergy.

(in reply to OllieJP)
Post #: 2
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