Bought at auction by a poor English farmer on the eve of World War I, Joey is a rambunctious colt with a white forehead-patch. Though he’d rather race against a car than pull a plow, he soon becomes a beloved member of the family.
So when cash-strapped owner Ted Narracott (Peter Mullan) sells Joey to a British cavalry officer heading off to fight in the Great War, it devastates his son Albert (Jeremy Irvine), who vows to get the horse back.
The heart-tugging story is told in “War Horse,” Steven Spielberg’s rousing adaptation of the popular children’s novel and smash play now at New York’s Lincoln Center. It’s an unapologetic tearjerker that combines Spielberg’s passions for history, adventure and seeing the world through youthful eyes.
While the film lacks the magic horse puppets of the stage production, it does capture the fairy tale vibe of Michael Morpurgo’s novel.
Albert’s dogged mission to find Joey on the battlefields of France includes more emotional twists and turns than a season’s worth of soap operas. After his rider is killed, Joey gets ping-ponged among the British, French and Germans, who force him to pull heavy artillery.
At one point, Joey is rescued from barbed wire by two soldiers, one British and one German, who temporarily cooperate to cut the horse loose from his death trap.
When Albert and Joey are finally reunited -- this can hardly be considered a spoiler -- the horse is seemingly on his last legs. Albert, wounded in a shelling attack, has his eyes covered with cloth.
Schmaltzy, yes, but Spielberg pulls it off.
“War Horse,” from Walt Disney Studios, opens Dec. 25 across the U.S. Rating: ***
Ten years later, it’s still a daunting challenge to make a sensible movie about 9/11.
“Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close,” based on Jonathan Safran Foer’s novel about an 11-year-old boy whose father died in the World Trade Center that day, is a noble but unsuccessful effort.
Dramatizing the impact of 9/11 through a mildly autistic child who roams New York City trying to find the meaning of a key his father left behind proves elusive for director Stephen Daldry, a three-time Oscar nominee for “Billy Elliot,” “The Reader” and “The Hours.”
Tambourine, Gas Mask
The main problem is the book, whose sprawling narrative isn’t well suited to the big screen. But Daldry and screenwriter Eric Roth make matters worse by overemphasizing the most cloying aspects of the story and turning the son, Oskar, into a New York version of “Rain Man.”
Particularly overdone are the many scenes in which Oskar (Thomas Horn) listens to phone messages left by his father while he was trapped in one of the towers. Rather than heighten our anxiety, the repetition dulls it.
Horn, whose precocious, high-strung character plays the tambourine and carries a gas mask, has to carry too heavy a load in his film debut.
Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock lend star power but little else as Oskar’s parents. Max von Sydow is graceful as a silent old man who befriends the boy and the always wonderful Viola Davis plays an unhappily married woman who bonds with Oskar.
“Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close,” from Warner Bros. Pictures, opens Dec. 25 in New York and Los Angeles. It will be released across the U.S. on Jan. 20. Rating: **
What the Stars Mean: **** Excellent *** Good ** Average * Poor No stars Worthless
(Rick Warner is the movie critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. Opinions expressed are his own.)