Thursday, January 5, 2012

What I Saw: War Horse

What I Saw:   War Horse

There was a time when horses provided essential services: plowing the fields, moving heavy machinery, and providing relatively fast transportation. Today, they are pretty to look at, and that’s really all Steven Spielberg’s latest film asks us to do.

Yes, there are some plot lines in there about the human spirit--or at least the equine spirit-- but the heart of the film is really the visual moments. Janusz Kaminski’s cinematography is marvelous, whether looking across a countryside landscape, surveying a dirty war zone, or admiring the attributes of the horse itself. John Williams’ score is also beautiful, although its transitions during sentimental moments seem a bit forced.

As each new human character meets our horse protagonist for the first time, we are told what a wonderful horse it is. The problem is that after I’d been watching that horse for over an hour, my amazement had worn off. I began to wonder whether it was really an amazing enough creature to [SPOILER ALERT] bring the war to a truce, deserve medical treatment ahead of human soldiers, be the object of multiple bidding wars, and inspire nearly everyone who came in contact with it to be a better person. [End Of Spoilers]

Clearly this is not a film for cynics, or anyone else who would question whether the human spirit might be represented more by all the actual wars we cause than by a fictional account of interspecies bonding. But if you really love horses, then this is the film for you.

Oscar Chances:

War Horse seems designed for the Oscars, with beautiful craft work and a sentimental story that isn’t going to offend anybody. For those who complain that it isn’t groundbreaking, I remind you that the Academy rarely goes for groundbreaking anyway.

Best Director: Steven Spielberg (current predicted winner)
Best Picture (currently ranked 3, definitely within striking distance for the win)
Cinematography: Janusz Kaminski (currently ranked 2)
Film Editing: Michael Kahn (currently ranked 3)
Original Score (currently ranked 3)
Adapted Screnplay: Richard Curtis and Lee Hall (currently ranked 3, could be hurt by today’s WGA snub)
Costume Design: Joanna Johnston (currently ranked 3)
Art Direction: Rick Carter and Lee Sandales (currently ranked 4)
Sound Editing (currently ranked 6)
Sound Mixing (currently ranked 6)
Makeup (currently ranked 19)
Lead Actor: Jeremy Irvine (currently ranked 20)
Supporting Actress: Emily Watson (currently ranked 22)
Supporting Actor: Niels Arestrup (currently ranked 28)
Supporting Actor: Nicholas Bro (currently ranked 30, will drop in next rankings)
Supporting Actors: Tom Hiddleston, Peter Mullan, Benedict Cumberbatch, David Kross, David Thewlis, Celine Buckens (currently unranked)

As always, check the Tracker Pages in the upper right hand corner of this blog for the most updated predictions in all categories!

My Lamb Score: 3 ½ out of 5 Lambs
What is a lamb score? Click HERE to learn more.
Read more of my reviews HERE.


  1. Good read! I'd give it three lambs and that's actually a half lamb more than I would have given were it not for the stunning cinematography. The first act where the boy and the horse are bonding is so drawn out I was almost getting angry. But just when Hiddleston and Cumberbatch showed up and the war began, then I started paying attention. Plus, am I the only one who feels the French girl section was unnecessarily lengthy? I found it a bit of a narrative setback. The sequences where the horse meets and somehow inspires the British and German soldiers were pretty good though.

  2. Thanks Dalurae. I was maybe a bit too lenient on the plot given the great camera work Plus my movie partner walked out of the theater and instantly gave it 5 stars, which made me not want to go too low with my own score. I didn't mind the French girl as much, since her reactions seemed a little more realistic than everyone else's.

  3. I haven't yet seen the film (but if you know me, you'll know that I really want to), but I am doubting its Oscar chances. It didn't exactly get a *great* critical reception...well, it wasn't great enough to give it any Oscar chances. I also doubt that Steven Spielberg will even get a nomination for Best Director, with the Golden Globe snub and all. I could be wrong, but I think it will only have a strong chance in all of the technical categories. I think that I've even left it off my revised Best Picture predictions...though I'm not entirely sure about that decision.

  4. @Stevee, I wouldn't worry too much about the critics on this one. It's possible that Spielberg will miss the director's nomination, but I think it's pretty much guaranteed to get a best picture nomination in the extended field. All the things that critics dislike are precisely the things that the Academy goes crazy for.

  5. This is basically Spielberg trying his hardest to manipulate the audience with everything that he has left in his bag of tricks, and somehow it just works. Great review.

  6. Thanks Dan. The manipulations didn't always work for me, but you can definitely see the strings being pulled.

  7. In, what seems to be a unpopular opinion, I thoroughly enjoyed War Horse. It was a collection of short stories on screen that showed how WWI affected many different people, including civilians, soldiers on both sides, underage enlisting, and what exactly horses went through in the War. It was a broad view, and I thought it was a very interesting story and Spielburg did it so well.

  8. I'm really glad you liked it Heather. My friend who I went with to see the film also gave it 5 stars, so you're definitely not alone! I do give the film credit for trying to show many different sides of WWI, even if it still seemed a bit forced to me.