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War Horse Review

War Horse Review (Movie 2011)
Our War Horse Review.
Director: Steven Spielberg
Starring: Jeremy Irvine, Emily Watson, Peter Mullan, David Thewlis, Benedict Cumberbatch
Release Date: US – 25th December / UK – 13th January

War Horse is the second worst film Steven Spielberg has ever made, one of the worst films of 2011, and chances are you’ll love every horse-dying moment of it.

War Horse Review (Movie 2011)

Sure to be a sentimental crowd-pleaser, the movie kicks off with a thirty-minute prologue about a boy named Albert (Jeremy Irvine) who happens to witness the birth of a horse (named Joey) in an open field. Albert stares with such Spielbergian grandeur that you’d think he was gawking at CGI dinosaurs instead of a wobbly-legged foal smeared with afterbirth.

Fast forward through a painful sequence about the horse growing up that Spielberg chose to edit like a “young love” montage, and we finally arrive at the first plot point: Albert’s drunken father (played with a wonderful yet totally unnecessary amount of sincerity by Peter Mullan) gets into an auction bidding war over Joey with his landlord. Of course he wins the horse for an exorbitant amount of money and then is forced to face the fact he can no longer afford rent unless he teaches Joey to plow a rocky field so he can plant turnips.

War Horse Review Movie
I would have shot the damn thing after it stole the first pie, but that’s just me.

What happens next ranks among the silliest moments in cinema since the McDonald’s dance party in Mac and Me. The evil landlord arrives to play mind games with Albert and Joey as they struggle to plow the field, even though their success will bring him lots of money. As the boy and horse struggle and fail, the entire population of the town arrives to cheer them on, appearing out of nowhere. There are no establishing shots, no sound of trucks on the air, they simply arrive at the farm purely from the writer’s need to suck every last drop of emotion from his suckers audience.

But even their hooting and hollering do nothing to encourage our boy/horse protagonist … and then it begins to rain ….

To tell you the details of the rest of the plot (read: series of random events) would be cruel, but here’s the short version: the war starts and the cavalry buys Joey who then gets passed from owner to owner as they are horribly mangled or murdered by Germans. While Joey is never the direct reason these people die, he is always indirectly involved, and by the end of the film he’s racked up such a body count it’s a wonder they didn’t title the movie Doom Horse: Steed of Destruction.

War Horse Review Movie
No, seriously, someone make that movie.

While the script is overly sentimental and criminally unstructured, it does have its share of good moments. For instance, Tom Hiddleston and Benedict Cumberbatch starring as fellow soldiers with an underlying rivalry are a lot of fun and a particular sequence in the middle of the film, starring Niels Arestrup and the newcomer Celine Buckens as a French grandfather and granddaughter surviving the war in their small shack, is particularly touching. In particular, Arestrup delivers a monologue in halting English that ranks among the more beautiful character moments Spielberg has filmed in the last twenty years, if not his entire career.

War Horse Review Movie
Not even the super rad kickboxing montage could save it.

But these good moments are fleeting and, while Spielberg has often turned in decent work from bad scripts (Minority Report, War of the Worlds), what really makes War Horse among the worst films he’s ever made is the abysmal cinematography.

This might seem like a grand claim since it was lensed by the talented Janusz Maninski, but while things like too much headroom over actors heads and dull frame composition might be considered a matter of preference (they shouldn’t be, but for the sake of argument …) there are moments in War Horse when the lighting is just objectively wrong. Case in point, a scene early in the film when Albert and his friend are training Joey in an open field. Even though the sun is out and would be the only source of lighting, the boys are casting distinct double shadows on the ground, pointing in opposite directions, making the scene look like a Mexican soap opera.

War Horse is the first live action film that Spielberg has edited on a computer. The process gave him an unprecedented range of options, allowing him to see his editing notes implemented in seconds instead of hours. While this could have rejuvenated the artistic touch of a master who has churned out increasingly dull films since the mid-1990s, the result is a sleek, cheap movie so full of story cliches and poorly lit two-shots it is sure to fit right in with your little cousin’s collections of Air Bud DVDs.

Our Grade: D

Also See: Adventures Of Tintin Review, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy Review, The Muppets Review

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  • God said

    This film most certainly does NOT contain “good moments”. It is an absolutely worthless waste of time from beginning to end, and no amount of film-induced brain damage could excuse uttering a kind word about it. You will please immediately remove the offending sentences from your review.

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    • Sheridan Passell said

      He gave it a D, is that not enough for you?

      Thumb up 2 Thumb down 4

      • God said

        No, that’s not enough. F- is the correct grade. I thought I made that clear.

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        • ABIGWarHorsefan! said

          I give it an A+++++++!!!!!
          It’s THE best movie of all time and when I see bad reviews about it I want to shoot the computer screen!
          I don’t usually cry in movies and I usually don’t get worked up about them ether but when I saw the first commercial I had to see it! As I said before…I GIVE IT AN A+++++++!!!!!
          Steven Spielberg I LOVE YOUR MOVIES!!!!!

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    • Bev moore said

      You must be one of those people in hollywood who likes to go watch a movie that has no amusement in the story. frankly i rate this film a ten. I just hope more movies are made like this one. one that you talk about all the way home. the scenes were beautifull. I loved it. perhaps you should try and watch a good movie for a change.

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    • dalmatianjaws said

      I Love God!

      Dear God,

      Yes, I included nice things to say about the movie, but I had to rack my brain to find them. Truth is, they are some good things, but the bad parts are so horrible they make you angry enough to forget the good stuff.

      Your faithful servant,


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    • War Horse Girl said

      It is NOT a waist of time!! And yes it has good moments like when Joey and Albert come home from the war and stuff like that…..Oh and this just happens to be my FAVORITE movie of all time!

      I would recomend seeing this movie if you have not seen it already, it will make you cry. Me and my best friend saw this movie and cryed the whole time. Were 12.

      War Horse Girl

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  • Colin said

    Hilarious review. You’re on the right track, as you can tell from my review:


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  • Kate said

    Thank you for your review. I went to see WarHorse today and came away feeling cheated. Two and a half hours and it was so transparently cloying. I read the book in preparation to see the movie–it is very rare that the movie is better than the book and this movie doesn’t even approach good. The more I think about it, the less I like it. Thanks for being honest!

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    • dalmatianjaws said

      And thank YOU miss for your (unneeded but appreciated) politeness. If you’re looking for a heartwarming yet still GOOD movie to watch, check out Hugo.

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  • Alan said

    I thought the movie was a outstanding movie and every one claped at the end of the movie. First movie that had a nice plot to go with outstanding scenery.

    Thumb up 9 Thumb down 1

    • dalmatianjaws said

      Alan, let’s shoot straight here. Do you REALLY believe this is the first movie to have a nice plot AND outstanding scenery? Out of ALL movies? REALLY? Did you just type that in a hurry, or do you really believe that? Cause if so I can give you a list, starting with but not limited to Lawrence of Arabia, that will be required viewing.

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      • ABIGWarHorsefan! said


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  • paul said

    war horse, is by far the best movie of the year, some one said you will love evry horse dying moment, wth? does that meen must be some animal hater, this is pure speilberg magic once again, the relationship between the kid and the horse simillar to what we remeber with eliot and ET, it takes you in to a different side of war, a side we never stop to think about, not to mention every single frame of the film looks like a picture of art,, its beautiful to watcj=h 5out of 5 stars for me

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  • Harpcat said

    Well Dalmationjaws. I usually have no interest in seeing horse films or dolphins films or killer whale films. The only thing worse than animal featured dramas is animal featured comedies.

    I am essentially saying that I had not planned on seeing this to begin with, but thanks to your review, I have a external edifice of ample reasons to maintain the policy.

    With great thanks.

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  • gd smith said

    I like that it was shot on actual film. It doesn’t have that digitised look and the colours are better. Bit’s of it are alright in a Sunday afternoon epic sort of way.

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  • bryon said

    I have to laugh at people they’d read the book expecting every thing in the movie I love the movie I thought it was great it was better than 3 musketeers and starlight part 1 they was waste of money and war horse was not

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  • BA Rene said

    i do not like how you said this. just saying??!

    It was one of the BEST movies i have seen!

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  • Donald said

    Great review. Not one of Spielberg’s best! If he did edit it on Final Cut, he needs to go back to basics.
    The scene with the town folk all coming out in deplorable conditions was really weird. I kept expecting they
    would jump over the fence and lend a hand. Put they didn’t. (I haven’t read the book) Guess I’ll drag out Saving Private… and restore my faith in Hollywood epics.

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  • Annoymous said

    Sure it might not be your kind of film,
    But for the people with hearts, that has got to be spielberg’s BEST movie! It wasn’t made for people like you obviously! It was made for the people who like animals, it is a film to smile, laugh, and for alot of the population cry! I even know people, who don’t even like it, say they’d cried! So maybe, before criticizing, THINK about who the film was made for!!!!

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    • dalmatianjaws said

      I’m a huge Spielberg fan AND an animal lover. E.T. was the first movie I ever watched. I grew up raising chickens, guinea pigs, rabbits. I rode horses as a child. I own a dog now.

      All that aside, just because a movie has an animal in it doesn’t give it a right to disregard a technique and story structure just because it knows its audience only cares about the cute wittle aminals.

      Don’t sell yourself short. You can demand better from your art and still watch animals in horrifying agony.

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  • Deez said

    A complete Spielberg flop. And I love animal movies. Zero connection between the horse and the boy. Terrible overacting. Horrible conjured backgrounds. So poorly contrived that any possible touching moment is overshadowed by the plots meander. Crying? You should be ashamed of yourself if you are an adult!

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  • Yousuck said

    You guys are terrible people
    Have you even read the darn book?!
    No, probably not cause you never finished kindergarten, I think War Horse was a great movie, but YOU HAD TO HAVE READ THE BOOK TO UNDERSTAND.
    Movie Moron, You are the moron.

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    • dalmatianjaws said

      1. A film is a standalone artifact and should not be beholden to its source material for it to be successful at drama.

      2. You’re correct, I did not finish kindergarten. However, I did not finish kindergarten because I did not attend kindergarten at all. I was educated completely outside the American school system, public and private, and was scoring college-level scores on SAT tests since I was twelve. So I know how to read (you should never capitalize the first letter after a comma, by the way) and I also understand story structure and film language since I’ve worked in the film industry for over a decade.

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  • spam said

    what happened to the cousin did her die??????

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    • dalmatianjaws said

      If you’re referring to the little girl from the middle of the film, that was the implication, yes.

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  • Catherine said

    I think it is incredibly unfortunate for you to say ‘you’ll love every horse dying moment of it’.

    You are not an animal loving film critic and clearly do not understand those who do love animals.

    I actually found the cheesiness a bit of a reality awakening; at first i thought it was cheesy, then before i knew it, i noticed I do the exact same thing, talking to my animals.

    I think the only knock was the Andrew character over stepped the theatrics. That is my only quarm.

    I think because the theatrical version of War Horse went down so well, Speilberg did not want to lose that theatrics and humour at the beginning, but the theatrics slowly moulded into dramatics.

    Yes, people died wherever Joey went, war was no picnic, and along with the bombs and explosions, came illness, hunger and poverty. At the end of the day, this is based on true events, in a fictional story.

    So, there were a few blips in your view and you are picking at it with a fine tooth comb, I believe the music was true countryside style, wartime style beautifully timed with the actions. Particularly when Joey gallops alone in the charge.

    I think the humour, specifically aims towards those who understand the horseworld, when the soldiers rescued him in noman’s land. Ok, if nothing survived there in real life, nothing survived, but the hero cannot die in this movie, otherwise it would be a pretty short movie. If that suits you, then why the hell would you watch something you couldn’t care less about.

    I’d cover more bases, but I lack energy and I bet you lack the care….and to be honest, you probably care less about all of the above. Just thought i’d put it out there

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    • dalmatianjaws said

      I am a huge animal lover. I’ve played with/worked with horses, rabbits, chickens, dogs, rats, guinea pigs since I was a child.

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      • ABIGWarHorsefan! said

        It’s hard to think you like animals dalmatianjews
        Oh and just so you know I LOVE HORSES and I live (and hope I always live) on a farm!

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        • kelly said

          Its just a movie and i really liked it ,i even bought it ,guys really its just a movie ,lol

          Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

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