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Movie Review - "War Horse"

Like any great Steven Spielberg film, “War Horse” is visually lush, emotionally rich, and follows several terrific story lines that come together at the conclusion. It opens in the peaceful English countryside during the period leading up to the First World War. The initial drama is provided by a young man’s efforts to make friends with a beautiful horse. We see the difficulty that a poor English farm family has in earning a living. These developments will take on greater significance when the war begins. The sharp contrast between the movie’s early pastoral scenes and the subsequent war scenes makes the fighting seem even more shocking.

English soldiers commandeer the family’s horse for use in the war, believing that this war, like the country’s previous wars, will depend on the success of men on horseback. Yet these illusions are soon dashed. Nothing about the war conforms to the hopes and expectations of the English officers. The scenes of fighting in the war’s early engagements are truly frightening, and these scenes earned the film its rating of PG-13.

The valiant struggles of the War Horse to survive and escape the fighting provide some relief from the intensity of trench warfare. Soon the young man, Albert, played with great feeling by Jeremy Irvine, enlists in the English army to seek out and rescue his horse. This search provides the movie with its overarching storyline. The rest of the cast is excellent, as well. Watch for Tom Hiddleston and Benedict Cumberbatch as English officers.

“War Horse” is a long movie -- more than two hours and twenty minutes, yet patience is rewarded. The story is compelling and well-developed. The acting is superb. In this one-hundredth anniversary year of the start of the Great War, it is fascinating to see how completely upended is the English view of the war into which they were entering.