This movie opens Christmas Day.
Man’s inhumanity to man is examined through a boy’s mystical connection to a horse in “War Horse,” Steven Spielberg’s stirring, expertly manipulative adaptation of Michael Morpurgo’s 1982 novel (which has already been adapted for a hit Broadway play).
As much an homage to cinema at its most old-school theatrical as it is a meditation on the absurdity of war, Spielberg’s lush epic spares nothing by way of action, melodrama, historical sweep or unapologetic schmaltz.
If “War Horse” errs on the side of overkill — from composer John Williams’s insistently sweet string music to Spielberg’s ludicrously romantic lighting — it acquits its central mission with the strength and assurance of its phenomenal equine protagonist.
That plucky steed is named Joey, a playful thoroughbred colt admired from a distance by an English farm boy named Albert (Jeremy Irvine). When Albert’s father, Ted (Peter Mullan), unexpectedly buys Joey in a drunken impulse, at first the boy is overjoyed, training the horse to respond to his slightest whistle. When Ted’s landlord, Lyons (David Thewlis), demands funds he’s due, it looks as if the family will have to sell Joey — until Albert persuades him to plow an entire rocky field, to the amazement of the onlookers who gather to witness the feat. But Joey’s fate is far from secure: When World War I dawns, Ted does sell the horse, this time to the British forces, a stint that will send the doughty steed on a punishing odyssey through the war’s bloodiest battlefields.