The Water Horse
R E V I E W   B Y   R I C H   C L I N E dir Jay Russell
scr Robert Nelson Jacobs
with Alex Etel, Emily Watson, Brian Cox, Ben Chaplin, David Morrissey, Priyanka Xi, Geraldine Brophy, Joel Tobeck, Marshall Napier, Erroll Shand, Craig Hall, Adam Smith
release US 25.Dec.07, UK 1.Feb.08
07/UK Columbia 1h52
The Water Horse
Come to papa: Chaplin and Etel

watson cox morrissey
The Water Horse Based on the Dick King-Smith novel, this youthful adventure is so well made that it can't be dismissed as just another Loch Ness monster movie. Solid acting, excellent production design and a ripping plot lift it far above average.

In a Scottish pub, an old man (Cox) tells two tourists a story from 1942 about Angus (Etel), a boy who can't accept the fact that his father's not going to return from the war. He lives with his mother Anne (Watson) and sister Kirstie (Xi) in a huge house on a loch, where a troop of soldiers led by a stern captain (Morrissey) is billeted. But Angus has a secret: he found an egg on the coast, which he hatched into a strange creature that's growing way too quickly to hide from the new handyman (Chaplin).

The filmmakers breathe new life into a familiar legend, layering the plot with all kinds of issues that keep us interested, while never tipping over into sentimentality. Even the tentative love triangle between Watson, Morrissey and Chaplin plays out in unexpected ways that give insight into each character's internal struggles. Just when we see another typically corny plot twist coming around the corner, the film quietly takes a very different path. Notwithstanding a rather overwrought climactic action scene, of course.

The filmmakers adeptly avoid Dodgy Special Effects Syndrome by creating a monster that actually looks relatively authentic--with just the right amount of personality and only a few false moments. The interaction between Angus and his "pet" is genuinely funny, exciting, even thrilling, and isn't afraid to get a fairly dark at times. And it's very nicely played by a very gifted cast, including one of the best English bulldog performances in recent memory.

Where the film becomes even more interesting is in the militaristic themes that begin to emerge through the story. Even without the creature, this would be a fascinating examination of personal tragedies on several levels, echoed in the gung ho, trigger-happy attitude of young soldiers with very big guns, which endangers far more than just the enemy. With this kind of depth, we can perhaps allow the finale to get a bit predictable and soppy.

cert pg themes, some violence 12.Nov.07

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2007 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall