This spectacular version of the dazzling play does not disappoint; once again I was ambushed emotionally and shed copious tears as I did in Lincoln Center. Steven Spielberg’s genius translates beautifully from stage to screen, one of the most original stories of the century; based on the novel by Michael Morpurgo. “War Horse” is a visual extravaganza and no one does “war” better than Spielberg.
Over 8 million horses died in WW1 (1914-1918) and “Joey” is the metaphor for all the equines who perished in battle or servitude; Joey is sold by a bucolic framer (empathetically portrayed by Peter Mullan) to the army, fracturing the heart of his son “Albert” (Jeremy Irvine gives a sincere and touching performance as the devastated lad who has trained Joey, a thoroughbred, to plow his family’s poverty- stricken, blighted field).
Four years of ravishment seen through the adventures, hardships, and traumas of Joey; from England, France and Germany his travails are reminiscent of the soldiers and survivors he encounters; he saves lives and in the process he is saved; there is a splendid scene where an English and German soldier untangle the wounded Joey from barbed wire; a temporary truce, hiatus in accomplishing the humane.
“War Horse” is a love story: between Joey and his huge black companion horse; their anthropomorphic friendship lends wonder and richness to their plight and the tale; Joey has a tender brief encounter with a French farmer and his granddaughter (resounding performances by Niles Arestrup and Celine Buckets); ultimately Joey and Albert share a bond that no man or god can rend asunder; Spielberg’s prescience and skill lends verisimilitude, with a dash of sentimentality, to this destined union.
Fourteen horses share in the role of “Joey” and posed the most difficult obstacles and challenges to the director and his crew but the result is a cinematic jewel, cloaked in fantasy but radiating a profound sense of history, life and love.