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POSTER ART
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FILM DETAILS
Certificate
12A
Cast
Benedict Cumberbatch
David Thewlis
Tom Hiddleston
Emily Watson
Jeremy Irvine
Peter Mullan.
Directors
Steven Spielberg.
Screenwriters
Lee Hall
Richard Curtis.
Running Time
146 minutes

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War Horse
Steven Spielberg goes forth


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Plot
England, 1914 — Devon lad Albert Narracott (Irvine) tames, trains and bonds with a stubborn farm horse he names Joey. When times get tight, Joey is sold into the British cavalry and begins an adventure that takes him across France and onto the battlefields of World War I — with Albert in pursuit.


Review
War Horse
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This 2012 awards season has thrown up a number of films that have reeled back through movie history. Michel Hazanavicius’ The Artist returns to 1927 to celebrate the glory of silent cinema and how the advent of sound changed the entire art form. Martin Scorsese’s Hugo is set in the ’30s but harkens back to the birth of cinema and the industrial light and magic of George Méliès. For War Horse, Steven Spielberg may not have directly referenced the medium itself, but make no mistake: this is a movie about movie traditions. For his first film as a director under the Disney aegis, he has embraced the late ’30s and ’40s to make the kind of film Uncle Walt would have been proud of.

If Tintin thrived on the thrill of Spielberg finding his voice in a new technology, War Horse sees the director returning to his storytelling roots, to the kind of films he lapped up at the Kiva Theater, Phoenix, during his youth. Yet this isn’t dead-eyed pastiche. Spielberg may be channelling his heroes — John Ford, David Lean, Frank Capra, Victor Fleming, to name a few — but he is working within old-school traditions rather than merely aping them, bringing his own ballsy brio and cinematic intelligence to bear. It might not stand shoulder to shoulder with the more complex likes of Saving Private Ryan or Munich, but the direction is virtuoso, the craft impeccable, the performances strong and the result is by turns exciting then tender — a proper Movie Movie that represents Spielberg’s most brazenly emotional work since E. T..

Tackling Michael Morpurgo’s beloved 1982 children’s novel and Nick Stafford’s acclaimed National Theatre adaptation is full of risks. It is a story founded on unsophisticated, unfashionable building blocks — the bond between a boy (Irvine inhabiting cinema’s most naive farm boy since Luke Skywalker) and his pet, a farm in jeopardy, rites of passage, an animal in peril — yet Spielberg and writers Lee Hall and Richard Curtis fully commit to these ideas, sapping them of potential hokiness. There is no postmodern twist or hint of embarrassment on show, just a fulsome trust that these tried and true storytelling tropes are going to fly.

Spielberg fillets the narrative through-line of the book — Morpurgo has Joey recount his adventures, Spielberg stops short of nag narration — and aligns it with the poignant intimacy of the play, but gives it an epic feel that is entirely big screen. During its combat, War Horse has a huge sweep: a surprise cavalry charge from the Brits, led by Benedict Cumberbatch’s Major Stewart, starts in the high grass (bizarrely recalling The Lost World’s raptor attack) before steaming out into the open in a no-holds-barred, David Lean-esque land rush. When the action moves to the Somme, Spielberg throws you headfirst into the mud and mayhem of no man’s land but doesn’t retread the shakycam dynamism of Saving Private Ryan, mixing up a Tommy’s-eye-view with a more formally poised, grandiose feel — from deftly cut close-ups of soldiers illuminated by explosions to a haunting sortie into a German bunker, this has a tangible albeit bloodless intensity. Without hitting you over the head with it, the film captures not only the wanton waste of war but also the tipping point between horseback warfare and mechanised conflict. Joey may hurdle a tank like Becher’s Brook but War Horse subtly chimes the death knell for an outmoded form of warfare.

Away from the shock and awe, the movie is redolent with imaginative Spielbergian flourishes — an entrance shot as a reflection in a horse’s eye, a regimental pendant as telling narrative motif, a strategic use of a windmill sail and, for fans of Tintin’s audacious scene transitions, look out for a dissolve that, for a moment, sees Albert and Joey ploughing through Emily Watson’s knitting. Given Spielberg’s collaboration with cinematographer Janusz Kaminski has mostly served up startling images of washed-out worlds, War Horse might be their most gorgeous-looking collaboration. England’s green and pleasant land has never looked so green and pleasant, the cavalry lead their steeds against blazing European sunsets, but there is a cool, delicate quality to Kaminski’s work that furnishes and burnishes the big emotions but staves off schmaltz.

Much of the magic of the stage play comes from the astonishing puppetry used to bring the horses to life. Stripped of such stagecraft, Spielberg somehow still manages to tell his story almost entirely from the horse’s point-of-view. Following a lengthy opening overture in Devon that builds up the bond between boy and steed, Joey is packed off to France and we pretty much stay with him for the rest of the movie, a decision that makes Albert’s journey feel somewhat under-nourished given the groundwork laid in the first act. Spielberg marshalls his equine cast expertly — the simultaneous reaction of a herd of horses as a four-legged comrade is put down is genius — charting a bizarrely affecting friendship between Joey and fellow military mare Topthorn. Yet it is not just in the performance. With this movie, Spielberg joins the ranks of John Ford and Akira Kurosawa as one of the great shooters of horses, be it in crafty camera moves that help inscribe the horse’s ‘feelings’ or expansive tracking shots of Joey sprinting riderless through a French wood or barrelling down a trench and across no man’s land at night. In these moments, there is no more impressive distillation of Spielberg’s art, camera movement, John Williams’ stirring score, storytelling and emotion coming together to create exhilarating cinema.

As Joey switches from Albert’s charge to Captain Nicholls’ (Tom Hiddleston, a top-notch decent cove), to two German brothers (David Kross, Leonard Carow), to a dying French girl (Celine Buckens) and her grandfather (Niels Arestrup, who gives his scenes gentle gravitas), to a German army horse master (Nicolas Bro), Spielberg finds time between the cavalry charges to insert human moments between characters: a discussion about the value of a silk cap; a young soldier’s fantasy about Italian girls; and, best of all, a funny, touching exchange between a Geordie (Toby Kebbell) and a German in no man’s land as they come together to help Joey, trapped in barbed wire.

It’s not a perfect film — you wish you could spend more time with some of the vividly etched characters. By the same token, the film feels like it needs tightening — and if you are resistant to the director’s aesthetic or worldview, it is unlikely to turn you around. Still, Spielberg has an uncanny knack for divining what audiences want and, in the uncertainty of recession, a simple story of fortitude in friendship filled with that most unfashionable of feelings — hope — might just resonate. The vehemence of the film’s huge-hearted sincerity might not square with the flip irony of the day. But what wins out in the end, as the film draws to a close under a Gone With The Wind sky, is that Spielberg means every word of it.


Verdict
War Horse is bold, exquisite family filmmaking in the grandest Hollywood tradition. Be warned: whether you’re a hippophile or not, it’s a four-hankie moviegoing experience.


Reviewed by Ian Freer


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Your Reviews

Average user rating for War Horse
Empire Star Rating

3

I have just got around to watching this - it was the centenary last night and it seemed like a fitting movie for the evening. Some good moments towards the end, in particular the no-man's land barbed wire episode, but mostly this was too sincere for me and made me cringe on a few occasions. I like the concept of seeing the war through the horses eyes, but I agree with previous comments that I just couldn't empathise with the reactions of so many people to the so-called 'miraculous' h... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by faulknerdrummer at 13:49, 05 August 2014 | Report This Post


I have just got around to watching this - it was the centenary last night and it seemed like a fitting movie for the evening. Some good moments towards the end, in particular the no-man's land barbed wire episode, but mostly this was too sincere for me and made me cringe on a few occasions. I like the concept of seeing the war through the horses eyes, but I agree with previous comments that I just couldn't empathise with the reactions of so many people to the so-called 'miraculous' horse.... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by faulknerdrummer at 13:49, 05 August 2014 | Report This Post


RE: War Horse

The material sometimes feels oversugared, though it's also guaranteed to raise a lump in your throat.se ... More

Posted by chang at 12:23, 31 December 2013 | Report This Post


RE: War Horse

r spoilery thing **quote]ORIGINAL: MartinBlank76 problem with the film was that the main character was a horse which we were all meant to be as amazed at and in love with as the characters in the film were. And I wasnt. e] That's it in a nutshell - the sheer amount of amazement shown by characters (often large groups) to a bloody horse went completely over my head. I couldn't give a toss about the horse (never a good sign when there's no connection with the 'hero') and was ... More

Posted by Vitamin F at 13:40, 07 August 2013 | Report This Post


A beautifully made war/adventure epic

I agree with the Empire review on all counts. In the cinema there was applause when this movie ended...and that was in Ayr, Scotland! ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Mr Gittes at 02:29, 07 February 2013 | Report This Post


Old fashioned

This was certainly old fashioned storytelling and okay so it was sentimental. However, I thought it was brilliant. More like the old Spielberg. I just watched it finally on Sky. I thought it combined many elements that we all know about The Great War pretty well... the trenches, desertion, mustard gas, no man's land, and the birth of the tank. We probably didn't quite get enough of the brutal slaughter and the futility of war, but there was the poignant scene when the cavalry charge cuts t... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Private Hudson at 15:45, 10 November 2012 | Report This Post


I personally thought this film was a bit slow and dull at times with a constantly cheesy and cliché script that had none of the power and grandeur of the book. I thought this film focussed too much on the epic panning shots and the colourful sunset cinematography of he country side rather than the characters or the drama. My favourite part of this film was the segment with the two German brothers, making this a powerful part of the film that was nearly forgotten when it's large ensemble cas... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by danfacey711 at 12:21, 24 June 2012 | Report This Post


Horse Feathers

Not Spielberg's best, but that is never a criticism for one of the best directors around. A simple story, but not dumb, with a pounding heartbeat to push it forward. A tearjerker, but never exploits the audience's emotional investment. So gorgeously filmed that it makes life look dull. It has the grace, strength and natural beauty of a horse. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Kramer Bozco at 06:06, 04 June 2012 | Report This Post


Spielberg back on form

I approached War Horse with caution as big screen apapts of stage plays are a bit touch and go plus Spielberg has been a bit hit and miss lately ( R.E Crystal Skull!!! ). So after missing it in the cinema I decided, after hearing lots of good feedback to purchase the blu-ray. I was very glad I did! While not taking itself too seriously, War Horse is an emotional, engaging and very well made epic and it's great to see a top director back on form ( along with the recent excellent Tin Tin) and he m... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by dannyfletch at 19:12, 17 May 2012 | Report This Post


RE: War Horse

Seen the movie like weeks ago and I could say that U could still remember details of it which made me realize it's a great film. I can't really go against you all because all of us has his own perception. But for me, I could really say it's a great film. It showed a lot of elements. The great and bad things of war. But I just have to comment a bit of how details are synchronized parts by parts, there is sometimes a fast movement of track and I can't seem to follow. Yet over all it's a great one... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by emilyblack06 at 04:23, 03 May 2012 | Report This Post


RE: War Horse

I thought this was going to be a gut wrenching tear fest with lots of death, blood and mud as brave English men trudge through the trenches of WW1, it actually turns out to be a very heart warming children's film of sorts, more educational than Hollywood if anything. Yes the film is tear jerking but not as heavy I thought it would be, as Mr Spielberg was at the helm I was kinda thinking along the lines of 'Schindler's List' but boy was I wrong. Its based on a children's novel for one thing... More

Posted by Phubbs at 17:45, 02 May 2012 | Report This Post


Almost Amazing...

Thought Provoking and visually impressive, War horse resembles that Old Fashioned Hollywood feel unfortunately feeling artificial and sentimental in the process. However it would take someone with a pretty hard heart not to be hooked by caring about the characters. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by trainedasninja at 10:02, 02 May 2012 | Report This Post


War Horse Review

War Horse has a slow and tedious beginning but dramatically improves after the horse’s involvement in World War I. Jeremy Irvine’s acting ability lets the film down, even with the fantastic performances of Hiddleston, Cumberbatch, Arestrup and Mullan. But all in all, the film was entertaining and emotionally attaching, even with the mentioned faults. Another successful block-buster for Spielberg to add to his collection, even if it doesn’t... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by DaleLawson at 14:28, 11 March 2012 | Report This Post


tp://www.imdb.com/title/tt1568911/]War Horset often occurs that a trailer gives you a different impression of a film than the final result is. But sometimes it happens that after seeing the trailer you know exactly what kind of movie you`re gonna see. War Horse is a prime example of the latter category. It is one big sentimental, uninteresting flick! Watching paint dry is more interesing. It all looks immaculate but it is just too much. It looks like Spielberg set to make that his ultimate goa... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by TheGodfather at 18:29, 21 February 2012 | Report This Post


''EXCELLENT ''

All round Outstanding & Wonderful movie ! ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by soulfood at 22:17, 17 February 2012 | Report This Post


Beautifully Shot And Heart-Wrenchingly Emotional

This and The Help are the pick of the Oscar bunch for me. Impossible to watch this without shedding a tear atleast twice. It's a little too choppy in places for my liking, with one scene jumping to the next to quickly at times, but if you don't find this emotionally uplifting for atleast the last half-hour then you're probably in possession of a heart of solid rock. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Mr. Anderson at 16:06, 10 February 2012 | Report This Post


RE: War Horse

I enjoyed this. Solid effort by the Berg with some stunning cinematography, heartfelt moments and good performances from the ensemble cast and the horse obviously. My only issue was it was a tad too sentimental and earnest, although this is somewhat a Spielberg trademark. I also got bored during the segment on the French farm, and had a problem with the euro accents. I wish they had actually been in their own languages with subtitles. However the films heart won over and it was worth it purely ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Spaldron at 19:24, 08 February 2012 | Report This Post


RE: War Horse

L: narmour L: DazDaMan L: narmour L: DazDaMan L: narmour t have been looking incredibly hard for Jesus references... wouldn't say that... it stuck out like dogs balls o you imagined No Man's Land to be all lush pastures and daisies, did you? Not the shell-chewed, muddy hell that it actually was? ote] This makes no sense. Speak some sense damn you. was referring to your post about washing the horse's feet. No Man's Land - the bit of wa... More

Posted by DazDaMan at 07:11, 06 February 2012 | Report This Post


RE: Bambi and the Big Guns!

Agreed on nearly all points @Saxsymbol, I thought the whole movie was just "Alright", nothing special, just a great big bag of predictability and coincidence all wrapped up in a shiny Spielberg christmas box. Watch "A very long engagement" instead. ... More

Posted by jonwells81 at 05:03, 06 February 2012 | Report This Post


Bambi and the Big Guns!

Spielberg's taste leaves a lot to be desired (proving that taste just can't be bought): First he completely raped my favourite comic character, TinTin by neglecting all the Euro-charm, cutting up the stories, and re-editing them into a mash-up as he pleased, even restyling the looks of the characters to brand them as Happy Meal toys. Then he creates War Horse, a paper-thin fairy tale, using the most horrific war in history as a backdrop of a shallow popcorn movie. The lead actor, although Britis... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Saxsymbol at 12:48, 05 February 2012 | Report This Post


Bambi and the Big Guns!

Spielberg's taste leaves a lot to be desired (proving that taste just can't be bought): First he completely raped my favourite comic character, TinTin by neglecting all the Euro-charm, cutting up the stories, and re-editing them into a mash-up as he pleased, even restyling the looks of the characters to brand them as Happy Meal toys. Then he creates War Horse, a paper-thin fairy tale, using the most horrific war in history as a backdrop of a shallow popcorn movie. The lead actor, although Britis... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Saxsymbol at 12:47, 05 February 2012 | Report This Post


RE: War Horse

7/10 War Horse: This is not a film about a horse, far from it. This is a film about family, conflict, bravery, life, death, friendship, and much more. Though it is not the best I've ever seen. Warning: This movie can be tough for some viewers. However, it’s a Wanna-Be-Oscar-Winner stereotype movie…. ... More

Posted by m_er at 13:30, 02 February 2012 | Report This Post


RE: War Horse

L: DazDaMan L: narmour L: DazDaMan L: narmour t have been looking incredibly hard for Jesus references... wouldn't say that... it stuck out like dogs balls o you imagined No Man's Land to be all lush pastures and daisies, did you? Not the shell-chewed, muddy hell that it actually was? ote] This makes no sense. Speak some sense damn you. was referring to your post about washing the horse's feet. No Man's Land - the bit of wasteland between the ... More

Posted by narmour at 22:26, 01 February 2012 | Report This Post


RE: War Horse

L: narmour L: DazDaMan L: narmour t have been looking incredibly hard for Jesus references... wouldn't say that... it stuck out like dogs balls o you imagined No Man's Land to be all lush pastures and daisies, did you? Not the shell-chewed, muddy hell that it actually was? ote] This makes no sense. Speak some sense damn you. was referring to your post about washing the horse's feet. No Man's Land - the bit of wasteland between the opposing sides - was ... More

Posted by DazDaMan at 09:15, 01 February 2012 | Report This Post


RE: War Horse

L: MartinBlank76 L: DazDaMan L: MartinBlank76 So in terms of animals in lead roles in films - pigs good, monkeys good, dogs good, horses bad. cough* Seabiscuit *coughcough* Hidalgo *coughingmyfuckingbollocksup* Black Beauty..... etc. I can go on. Fuck, even Secretariat had its good points. And let's not get started on National Velvet... *******mild spoilers******** Maybe I am being unfair on horsey movies judging them all on War Horse. I did like Se... More

Posted by DazDaMan at 09:08, 01 February 2012 | Report This Post


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