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Horse Names | Movie Review: Spielberg’s ‘War Horse’ A Simple Story Told Well

Posted By: JR

By Sean P. Means

The Salt Lake Tribune

But director Steven Spielberg invests that simple story with all the care and craft he can muster, which is considerable. He also turns the story around by following the journey not of the lad, but of the horse ” a more harrowing and compelling tale.

The story starts on a bucolic English farm, around 1910 or so, when tenant farmer Ted Narracott (Peter Mullan) impulsively buys a thoroughbred horse at auction, beating out his landlord, Lyons (David Thewlis). Ted’s wife, Rosie (Emily Watson), fears the horse won’t be able to pull a plow, so there’ll be no crop and the family will lose the farm to Lyons. Young Albert Narracott (Jeremy Irvine) believes in the horse, names him Joey and trains him to pull a plow.

But when the family suffers more setbacks, in the onset of World War I, Ted sells Joey to the Army. A young officer (Tom Hiddleston, from “Thor”) promises Albie that he’ll bring Joey home safe. But, like so many young men in that terrible war in which 19th-century tactics were outdone by 20th-century weapons, the soldier doesn’t live long enough to fulfill that promise.

The script, adapted from Michael Morpurgo’s 1982 children’s novel (the same source as Nick Stafford’s stage play) by Lee Hall (“Billy Elliot”) and Richard Curtis (“Love, Actually”), tells Joey’s odyssey in episodes, as he is shuttled from one human to another. Joey is captured by the Germans, escapes to the care of an elderly French farmer (Neils Arestrup) and his sickly granddaughter (Celine Buckens), then is recaptured by the Germans and driven nearly to death lugging artillery.

In the movie’s most shocking and effective moment, Joey (or, I’m sure, animatronic models, because the Humane Society would be screaming bloody murder if real horses were involved) runs through the no-man’s-land between the Allied and German trenches, wrapped up in a bloody tangle of barbed wire. Meanwhile, as the war rages, we learn the lengths to which Albie goes to be reunited with his four-legged friend.

Spielberg builds up this simple story with lyrical imagery and rock-solid iconography. With his frequent cinematographer, Janusz Kaminski, Spielberg captures the deep-red sunsets of the English farm, the lush greens of the British Army’s encampments and the dank grays of combat zones with painstaking detail ” all in the service of tugging, successfully and with the help of John Williams’ swelling score, the audience’s heartstrings.

In a cast brimming with fascinating character actors (Liam Cunningham, Toby Kebbell and Eddie Marsan are in the mix, too), the standout performance in “War Horse” is delivered by Joey ” or, to be precise, the 14 horses that portray him. Joey’s plight, as he struggles and endures through the horrors of World War I, moves us more effectively than anything happening to the humans on the screen.


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