War Horse is based on a book by British author Michael Morpurgo. Set in England and Europe during World War One, War Horse is the heartfelt story of a remarkable friendship between a horse named Joey and a young man named Albert. It is also a movie about love, family, war and both the good and bad in people.
The film follows the extraordinary journey of the horse as he moves through the war, changing and inspiring the lives of all he meets along the way including British cavalry, German and British soldiers, a French farmer and his granddaughter.
Set against a sweeping canvas of rural England and Europe during World War 1, War Horse begins with the friendship between a horse named Joey and a young man named Albert Narracott (Jeremy Irvine in his feature film debut), who tames and trains him. Albert’s father, Ted (Peter Mullan), buys the thoroughbred colt at an auction, even though his original intent was to buy a plow horse for his farm. The purchase is also to spite his landlord, Lyons (David Thewlis) who tried to outbid him for the colt. When Ted gets home his wife Rose Narracott (Emily Watson) is furious with the purchase and demands that he return the colt. The family is in debt and she fears that without a plow horse to prepare the fields they will lose their farmhouse. With the family on the verge of losing the farm, Albert trains the thoroughbred horse to plow and to the astonishment of his neighbors plows a stony field to plant turnips. A torrential summer rainstorm destroys the turnip crop. Now, unable to pay the rent and with no other options to save the farm, Ted decides to sell Joey. With the outbreak of World War 1, Ted sells the horse to Captain Nicholls (Tom Hiddleston) of the British army. When Albert finds out he is heartbroken, Captain Nicholls promises him he will take care of Joey and hopefully return him after the war. This begins an incredible four year journey.
The film reaches its emotional climax when Joey runs into no-man’s land where he gets entangled in barbed wire. In a moving scene a British soldier named Colin and a German soldier named Peter put aside their differences and together they free Joey from the barbed wire. At the end of this humanitarian effort, the two soldiers flip a coin to decide who gets Joey. Colin wins and takes Joey back to the British camp. This flip of a coin eventually decides the horse’s fate and the destiny of the characters.
While I enjoyed War Horse, I was expecting much more from a Steven Spielberg film. This is the kind of movie that the Academy usually loves. If there was an Academy Award for ‘Best Performance by a Leading Animal’, Joey would certainly win. Despite having an excellent story, the average cast, unmemorable score, and lengthy run time of 2 hours and 26 minutes were too much weight for the story to carry. While it is definitely worth seeing, it won’t capture a spot on my awards ballot for 2011.