Eric D. Snider

War Horse

Movie Review

War Horse

by Eric D. Snider

Grade: C

Released: December 25, 2011


Directed by:


The main character in "War Horse" is the horse. I keep trying to convince myself otherwise, but it's true. The story's action follows the horse, a spirited thoroughbred named Joey, on a series of adventures on and near the battlefields of World War I. The constant is Joey's original owner, a poor farm boy named Albert (Jeremy Irvine), who was heartbroken to see Joey sold to the war effort and hopes to be reunited with him someday. But this isn't a movie about a boy trying to find his horse. It's a story about a horse who used to belong to a boy and might eventually belong to him again.

In the meantime, the narrative shifts focus whenever Joey changes hands. He starts in the service of the British cavalry, then at various times is owned by German officers, young German soldiers seeking desertion, a little Dutch girl and her jam-making grandfather, and others. Everyone comments on what a remarkable horse Joey is, and I don't know what they're seeing that I'm not. As horses go, Joey seems slightly above average at best.

Which brings us to the main problem with this ramblingly episodic, earnest but dull Steven Spielberg misfire. The character we spend the most time with is Joey, who is a fine horse but a horse nonetheless and thus does not have goals, motivations, or strategies. He has a limited capacity to make things happen; mostly he can only react to things that happen to him. There are plenty of human characters who might engage our interest, and some of them occasionally do -- so does Joey occasionally, for that matter -- but they are decidedly not the focus. The focus is the majestic, mute creature who can't formulate a plan or express a wish beyond the immediate future. The periodic attempts to anthropomorphize Joey by having him "volunteer" for a difficult task so a fellow horse (his girlfriend, I think) won't have to do it are just silly.

And yet the handsomely photographed production has individual sequences that rise above the meandering narrative and corny dialogue ("The rest of our lives depend on this!"; "Wherever you are, I will find you!"; etc.) to become as emotionally compelling as Spielberg intended the entire film to be. Chief among these is a scene in which Joey is snagged by barbed wire in no man's land and must be rescued through a cooperative effort by soldiers from both sides. Such a scenario of momentary detente is plausible (see, for example, the fact-based "Joyeux Noel," about a Christmas Day truce), yet somehow magical in its ability to inspire. In other words, it's classic Spielberg, something that's generally lacking in "War Horse."

Grade: C

Rated PG-13, some war violence and peril

2 hrs., 26 min.

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This item has 6 comments

  1. SteveDenver says:

    "ramblingly episodic, earnest but dull Steven Spielberg misfire."

    What a BRILLIANT summation of what I suffered through tonight.
    The musical track by John Williams is the equivalent of someone taking a blind person by the nose to guide them through familiar territory. I even heard a woman behind me say, "Someone turn off the music." Garish and unsophisticated.

    When the little Dutch girl rides off on Joey, it's supposed to be her first time on a horse, but she takes off and rides right into the midst of soldiers who take her horse. What a stupid little girl.

    There are so many times that are downright CORNY, it seemed like Spielberg had distilled all the sap out of Titanic.

    I went with a friend who owns, rides and idolizes horses. She was rolling her eyes and shaking her head.

    Spielberg never met a lily he didn't want to gild.

  2. Annette says:

    All I can say is that, after reading comments and reviews, it appears that the majority of people who didn't like War Horse DIDN'T GET IT. This movie isn't about a horse. DUH. And it isn't supposed to be a modern day adult movie. It is full of symbolism at so many different levels (characterization, dialogue, storyline, plot...go back to English 101 if you don't understand these words) that more than one viewing is required. All I can do is shake my head at the sad state of our culture today, a culture where 7th graders are reading Twilight instead of Twain.

    Trust me, if you didn't like this movie, you should go see something shallow like Moneyball. Now THERE'S a great movie. Right.

  3. Ampersand says:

    Yes, how silly of us all to assume that a movie called War Horse is, in fact, about a horse.

  4. Kangaroo Mike says:

    What if I love Twain but think Warhorse and Twilight were both melodramatic and unremarkable?

    I'm confused.

  5. Zina says:

    Moneyball was awesome.

    Almost went to see War Horse last night but thankfully found out it was 2.5 hours long and knew we weren't up for that. Sounds like a good one to watch at home some time.

  6. Carrie says:

    @Annette: I'm THRILLED when I see seventh graders reading Twilight. Most kids today won't read ANYTHING. Reading an average young-adult series is better than reading nothing at all.

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