Sappy, sentimental and totally Spielbergian, “War Horse” is a Christmas present from one of the world’s most popular directors.
Based on the children’s novel by Michael Morpurgo that has also been adapted for the stage, the story begins in rural England on the eve of the first World War. Ted Narracott (Peter Mullan) is a dirt-poor farmer who needs to purchase a workhorse to plow his fields so he can plant the crops that will pay off his debts.
When Ted arrives at the auction, he is drawn to Joey, a magnificent horse that clearly was not born or bred for farming. Despite the advice of his friends, Ted becomes determined to own the animal, even if it means a bidding war with his wealthy landlord, Lyons (David Thewlis). Ted wins the horse, but it costs him every dime he has.
This doesn’t sit well with his wife Rose (Emily Watson) but Joey quickly bonds with son Albert (Jeremy Irvine). Of course, getting Joey to pull a plow is going to be a difficult task, but Albert pulls it off in the most dramatic way possible.
When a storm destroys their crops, Ted has no choice but to sell Joey to military for the war effort. Albert is too young to join the service but he vows that some day boy and horse will be reunited.
What follows is an epic odyssey in which eventually — am I spoiling it? no, not really — boy and horse are reunited. Joey will impact many lives, human and animal, in the course of the next few years.
“War Horse” is unabashedly old-fashioned and sentimental. Any minute you expect John Wayne or Jimmy Stewart to show up. It’s every Hallmark Channel movie rolled into one. It’s gorgeously shot (if you love looking at horses, you’ll love this) and lovingly acted. There are some very dark moments but that just makes the uplifting parts soar higher.
Steven Spielberg’s “War Horse” is corny and predictable so if that type of thing annoys you, stay far away. But if you’re missing and craving that kind of movie experience, I recommend it.
Oh, and Merry Christmas.