WAR HORSE
Author: JoAnne Hyde
December 23, 2011
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SYNOPSIS: Set against a sweeping canvas of rural England and Europe during the First World War, War Horse begins with the remarkable friendship between a horse named Joey and a young man called Albert, who tames and trains him. When they are forcefully parted, the film follows the extraordinary journey of the horse as he moves through the war, changing and inspiring the lives of all those he meets-British cavalry, German soldiers, and a French farmer and his granddaughter-before the story reaches its emotional climax in the heart of No Man's Land. The First World War is experienced through the journey of this horse-an odyssey of joy and sorrow, passionate friendship and high adventure.

War Horse thunders across the screen like the epic it is. Steven Spielberg has given us a visually beautiful and emotionally affecting film. The story of a boy, Albert Narracott (Jeremy Irvine), and the horse he trains unfolds against the harrowing battlegrounds and trenches of World War I. Combine a compelling story with the cinematography of Janysz Kaminski and the powerful , original music score by John Williams, and you have film-making on the grandest of scales. The film is based on a childrenís book by Michael Morpurgo, released in the UK in 1982, which was adapted for the stage in 2007 and became a Tony award-winning play. Obviously, the transition to film broadens the scope of the story.

Albertís father Ted (Peter Mullan) returned from the Boer War with a bad leg and a drinking problem. As a tenant farmer, he and his family barely scrape by. His long-suffering, but steadfast, wife Rose, is played by Emily Watson in a spirited performance. Albert has admired the horse he will name Joey since the horse was a foal. Ted, in a fit of competitive bidding with his landlord Lyons (David Thewlis), pays too much for Joey and suffers the ridicule of his friends who taunt him for buying a thoroughbred instead of a work horse. Albert, terrified that his father will sell Joey, trains him to do anything that is required of him, including pulling a plow. However, hard times continue, and at the dawn of World War I, Joey is sold to Captain Nicholls (Tom Hiddleston) of the British mounted cavalry. Seeing Albertís anguish, Nicholl promises to return the horse after the war, and so begins Joeyís journey through many owners and battles. Joey ends up with two young German brothers serving in the field, then with a young French girl and her grandfather, and finally as a German infantry horse whose job is to pull the heavy gun wagons until he drops. Miraculously, Joey survives, escapes, and runs free until heís rescued by British troops in the trenches. In the meantime, the audience learns what has happened to Albert and his family and friends. Then, all thatís left is to find out whether or not Joey and Albert will ever be reunited.

The story is indeed inspiring, but itís also set during one of the most brutal Ė and senseless -- wars. Trench warfare boggles the mind with its brutality, and I found it quite difficult to watch some of these scenes. Iíd say itís a pretty good anti-war film after seeing the look of profound sadness in the eyes of a young officer looking out and seeing only death, and the look of complete confusion and doom on the face of a young soldier in a trench as poisonous gas engulfs him. Animal lovers will recoil at the scenes of the horses in battle, but they can take comfort in the fact that these are only stunts, and animatronics were also used. Indeed, the horse master, Bobby Lovgren, said in an interview that the SPCA was on set every day, monitoring the treatment of all animals in the film. He also mentioned that Joey is portrayed by several different horses made to look identical through the use of make-up.

The wholesale carnage on the battlefields and in the trenches may be too intense for some. However, itís the contrast of this horror with the idyllic, Irish countryside where the Narracotts and Joey live that gives the film such power. At the end of the film, there was complete silence for a few seconds, and then the preview audience broke into applause. War Horse is an excellent film -- just donít go expecting to see E. T.

GRADE: A

JoAnne Hyde Likes film.
She likes to write.
So she combines those two loves by reviewing films for BOF

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