Friday, December 30, 2011

War Horse (2011)

Starring: Jeremy Irvine, Emily Watson, Peter Mullan, a bunch of horses
Director: Steven Spielberg

The year is almost over, but I got time for one more review, so let's check out this popular film that is currently in theatres.

Based on the book and the play of the same name, the movie is about a English boy named Albert and his horse Joey (played by 14 different horses, believe it or not). However, this bond is threatened when the horse is sold to a soldier (Tom Hiddleston) about to head off to fight in World War I, beginning a long journey as the animal exchanges owners over the course of the conflict.

I will start off with the good stuff. The film has great scenery, with beautiful shots of England and mainland Europe. The battle scenes are also well shot (it was almost as if the directer did "Saving Private Ryan" or something), and even though the violence is relatively mind in order to maintain a PG-13 rating, it still maintains a level of intensity. One of the best moments from this is when a character is literally facing his death and has a look of complete dread in his eyes before it all comes to an end. There are some other really good parts (both on and off the battlefield) that really allow the characters to shine and they try to find hope in times of darkness, determined never to give up.

I will say that the film has one major flaw. In the course of changing owners, the horse ends up with a spirited but frail girl and her grandfather (Celine Buckens and Niels Arestrup, respectively). The problem with this? There is simply no reason for this subplot to exist. It focuses exclusively on them for a good 20 minutes or so, but it does not progress the story at all. The segment is not brought up again until the end, but it is resolved fairly quickly (and almost cruelly). I am not sure if this was included in the book or the play or if it was added to bring in the younger female audience. Either way, it should have been cut out. It would have shaved the film's rather lengthily 2 hour, 26 minute running time, allowing for more focus on the actual war itself, and may have given it more of an adult appeal, which is what a movie about a boy and his horse usually requires in order to make it a generally "well-rounded picture," for lack of a better phrase.

Overall, this is a fine, heartwarming family film. Granted, I think it suffers from its attempts to try reach different audiences. It's a difficult task, though quite frankly I expected more out of Spielberg, who has probably had more success with this strategy than any director or producer alive today. Still, it was good for what it was and the negatives are comfortably outweighed by the positives. I recommend it.

I will be posting my Top Ten List very shortly, so stay tuned!

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