Susan Granger's review of "War Horse"
Joining beloved horse movies like "The Black Stallion," "Black Beauty, "Hidalgo," "Secretariat," "Seabiscuit," and "National Velvet" is Steven Spielberg's epic, emotionally triumphant adaptation of Michael Morpurgo's 1982 novel "War Horse."
Set in rural England and Europe during W.W. I, it begins as a colt is born in the Devon countryside and later purchased at auction by Ted Narracott (Peter Mullan), a drunk, foolhardy tenant-farmer. As his long-suffering wife (Emily Watson) points out, what they really need is a plow horse, not a thoroughbred; a sentiment echoed by their sneering, insensitive, overbearing landlord (David Thewlis). But their teenage son Albert (Jeremy Irvine) falls in love with the bay with four white stockings and a white cross on his forehead, naming him Joey. Training him, Albert discovers that Joey's not only quick to learn but also has tremendous perseverance. When England goes to war with Germany, Joey's conscripted and turned over to Cavalry Capt. Nicholls (Tom Hiddleston). Tenaciously determined to bring his cherished horse home, Albert enlists, only to discover that Joey's miraculous journey has taken him behind enemy lines, where he's sheltered by a French farmer (Niels Arestrup) and his granddaughter (Celine Buckens), before entrapment on a "no-man's-land" battleground. Historically, between one and two million British horses were sent to the front lines during W.W. I; only 65,000 or so came back.
Working from a nostalgic, melodramatic screenplay by Richard Curtis and Lee Hall, Spielberg surrounds himself with a stellar production staff, including cinematographer Janusz Kaminski, editor Michael Kahn and composer John Williams. To play Joey, 14 different horses were used by trainer Bobby Lovgren under strict supervision by the American Humane Association; only in portions of the barbed-wire sequence was an animatronic horse used.
In 2007, Nick Stafford's dramatization became a sensation on London's West End, presenting Joey as a fantastic, life-size puppet; the American theatrical version is still at Manhattan's Lincoln Center.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "War Horse" is a stirring, sentimental, tear-jerking 10, joining Spielberg's "Saving Private Ryan" and "Schindler's List" in a universal plea for peace.