Spielberg once again makes movie magic as this film opens to some spectacular landscapes, countryside vistas and just breath-taking cinematography which continue throughout the entire story about a young boy and his horse. This young man is Albert (Jeremy Irvine) and he watched this horse grow from birth to an amazing, immaculate, intelligent creature. Spielberg does a wonderful job showing the relationship and bond that the young horse has with its mother and the pain they feel when they are later separated and sold at auction. Losing my own mother years ago to a fall I know what it’s like to feel the loss and can only imagine the emptiness that any of God’s creatures feel when they are separated from the one they love most in the world. Ted Naracott (Peter Mullan) is at the auction with a minimal amount of money to buy a horse in order to plow a field to grow turnips and make enough money to pay the rent on his farm. When he returns to his home with a young muscular horse rather than a broader stronger horse his wife Rose (Emily Watson) fears they will lose the farm. Albert their only son believes in this horse, names him Joey and teaches him the behaviors similar to one would teach a dog. As many of us know positive reinforcement is the key to proper training of most animals as is proven within this story.
The landlord Mr. Lyons (David Thewlis) also bid on the horse but decided the price too high and gave it up to Ted, a man very familiar to the flask. Lyons knowing Ted’s inner demons knew he would fail and eventually the horse and the land would be his. Not a very well-liked man Mr. Lyons, even the goose on Ted’s farm dislikes him. Albert and Joey have created a friendship and a bond like no other and when Joey proves himself to be the horse Albert knew he was, it took the act of Mother Nature to wrong a right. When war breaks out with Germany, Ted has no choice in order to survive than to sell Joey to the cavalry. Once again this horse is stripped from the one it loves but this time to serve its country in war. Albert not being old enough to go with Joey vows he will find him and bring him home as he ties his father’s war sash on Joey for good luck.
This moment on in the story Director Spielberg takes us on a journey not to be forgotten any time soon especially by those of us that love horses or animals in general. He does a superb job of making the audience fall in love with this magnificent creature, feeling its pain, joy, excitement, fear and its thirst for survival in what seems to be a meaningless fight between men for nothing more than power. The battlefields of France in 1914 as many English soldiers meet their death along with many of their horses; several survive but are now in the power of the Germans, Joey being one of them. As Gunther (David Kross) and his young brother flee from the war to save themselves from the front line one rides out on Joey and the other on a tall black horse that Joey befriended. Later found and asked by his commander why he fled, Gunther responds, “a mistake, a promise” which has led them to becoming casualties of their own army and the two horses left behind hidden in a local wind mill barn.
The next morning a young Italian farm girl Emilie (Celine Buckens) who lives with her Grandfather (Niels Arestrup) discovers the two horses and like those before her falls in love with Joey. When the soldiers invade their area of the country once again the two horses are thrust back into the war zone. Spielberg does an amazing accomplishment here making the war second to the story of this horse and the ordeals it encounters as it tries to survive and hopefully be reunited with Albert once again. One problem though with war is that like in many sporting events in this day if the animal does not perform its duties it sometimes is destroyed such is the case of horses at war as they take a bullet to their head only for being tired and over-worked.
France 1918, Albert has become a soldier along with his friend Andrew (Matt Milne), the young Lyons son David (Robert Emms) and others from his village. Many have not survived the trenches of war as they run from bunker to bunker to claim victory on the land in which they stand. In an evening run of survival Joey is seen dashing across the battlefields in fear and eventually becoming entangled in barbwire from head to hoof. Later being freed thanks to the caring hearts of two men found working towards one goal in very unfamiliar territory; leading Joey out of no man’s land, four white socks and all. Eventually the war ends, not before taking many lives but for some they find their way back home where they belong thanks to a whistle and the love of the human heart.
As I said throughout this review, Spielberg does a superb job in every aspect of this film but would you expect less, personally no! I am a fan of all of his films and once again he does not fail me. Every detail of the majestic cinematography is superb and along with a Williams score it brings this film to an even higher level. Right to the ending of the story when Spielberg makes the audience feel like they are reliving a moment from the epic film “Gone With The Wind”, thanks to his climatic sunsets and silhouettes that leave the audience riddled in goose bumps. Grant it the writing is strong but not as well matched to Spielberg’s artistic quality to the story. I’ve never seen the play so unable to compare the differences or similarities of a Broadway play to this big screen masterpiece. A huge cast, too many to mention all are brilliantly cast but it is the Narracott family that are truly the best. Mullan and Watson are as real as could be raising their son Albert played by the dashing Irvine who is sure to start popping up in many more films on the big screen. Everyone in the cast was perfect, all complimenting one another but it is the relationship between Albert and Joey that rides hills and valleys over any other in the story. This is truly one amazing horse and one amazing story which will mostly appeal to the mature audience but is worthy of the entire young and old generation out for a lengthy story that flies by leaving you fall in love with one of this world’s most beautiful creations, the horse. Written and emotionally enjoyed with three and a half paws out of four by Jon Patch.