Review of War Horse

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Steven Spielberg directs this 2011 adventure film about a young man named Albert and his horse, Joey, as their bond is forcibly broken when Joey is sold to the cavalry and sent to the trenches of World War One. Despite being too young to enlist, Albert heads to France to save his friend. Based on the children's novel of the same name by Michael Morpurgo, War Horse stars David Thewlis, Benedict Cumberbatch, Jeremy Irvine, Emily Watson, Tom Hiddleston, & Peter Mullan.
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Movie Review: "War Horse"

--Rating: PG-13 (some war violence)
Length: 146 minutes
Release Date: December 25, 2011
Directed by: Steven Spielberg
Genre: History / Drama / War

"War Horse" is a drama set against the backdrop of World War I. The film begins with a boy watching the birth of a foal. He is mesmerized by the animal, and his father eventually purchases the horse at auction. The young boy, Albert, names the foal Joey. Unfortunately, Albert's father paid more than he could reasonably afford, and, after a series of unfortunate circumstances, the horse must be sold. Albert is devastated, as he and the horse have formed a strong bond. Despite Albert's pleas, Joey is purchased by Captain Nicholls, a captain in the military. Sadly, Albert and Joey end up on very different paths through life.

The film is a tale about love and the bond it can form. The special connection that Albert shares with the animal is obvious from the beginning. Their interactions strongly suggest that, no matter what happens, these two will be friends for life. At the same time, the movie is not overly dramatic or sappy. The scenes between Albert and his horse are touching, yet plausible, and there is a credible feel of sweetness and innocence during the first scenes of the film. The farm where Albert and his family live is rustic and full of charm. The family's English country farmhouse looks like it came straight from an oil painting.

Despite the love in Albert's family, there are underlying issues and tensions among them. The father drinks too much in an effort to cope with his own war experiences. Albert's mother is loving and devoted, but also a bit stern. The family is poor, making life a daily struggle. Still, Albert trains his new pal, Joey, to pull a plow, and the two enjoy long rides through the picturesque countryside. All is well, until Joey is torn from Albert and sent to France to be trained as a war horse.

Once the horse arrives in France, a jarring transition occurs. The simple, charming life in England is replaced by the chaotic landscape of a country in the thralls of war. Though a film about The Great War is bound to have some violent moments, they are handled tastefully. Director Steven Spielberg is a master at crafting films that appeal to both parents and children alike. He works his magic here and the result is that "War Horse" is sure to captivate viewers of all ages.

The film's undisguised message is of the destructive and all-consuming nature of war. Many of the film's supporting characters meet an untimely, distressing end. This violence, again, is mitigated by the directing style. The minor characters exist only to move the horse's story along, and then are quickly removed. This proves somewhat disconcerting, as part of the fun of watching a movie is pondering the fate of the characters after the credits roll. Very few of the supporting cast members remain long enough for the audience to even remember their names. Still, the main draw is the relationship between the horse and Albert, and they are spared the fate of their fellow characters.

Albert eventually enlists, at which point the audience gets to see the parallels between his experiences and those of Joey. Both get caught up in the terrible machine of war. They both rise to the occasion, however, performing acts of bravery and going on to survive many difficult years in the war. The scenes are exciting and full of action, taking the viewer on a roller coaster of emotions. There are many lovely and tender moments as well as darker periods peppered with death and suffering. The acting and writing does a commendable job of getting viewers inside the main characters' heads to give a sense of what they're going through. The resulting feeling is one of a shared journey with the audience.

Albert is portrayed by young British actor Jeremy Irvine. He brings a naivete and softness to the character that really allows the audience to form a connection with Albert. Irvine plays the part with likability and inner strength. The most touching scenes are made all the more dramatic by young Irvine. The horse is, perhaps, the biggest star of the film. The filmmakers really scored with such a stunning creature. Joey is not only strong and striking; he has warmth in his large, brown eyes that make him endearing to viewers. It is easy to see why these two individuals have such a bond with one another.

This movie is stunning. It's emotional, engaging entertainment for all audiences. Children and adults will find something in this film that appeals to them. The movie depicts violence, and some scenes may frighten younger children. The emotional ending will leave many a movie-goer with a tear or two.