The beginning of War Horse consists of sweeping vistas of the English countryside accompanied by uplifting music to underscore “we shall overcome” moments designed to make the audience cry as Albert Narracott (Jeremy Irvine) bonds with his horse, Joey while training him.

Albert’s father, Ted Narracott (Peter Mullan) a stubborn drunk sets out to buy a workhorse to plow the fields but instead ends up overbidding for a beautiful yet impractical thoroughbred he can’t afford. Emily Watson is the matriarch, Rose who doesn’t approve of her husband’s actions but remains loyal to him. Ted’s irresponsible impulse leaves the family on the verge of losing their home and livelihood. Up to this point, the film is beautifully shot, well acted and entirely predictable.

It isn’t until World War I erupts that the story takes off and starts feeling more real and less manipulative. Ted sells the horse to the cavalry and the rest of the story follows Joey and the numerous people who come in contact with him throughout the war. The film comes to life as Joey affects individuals from disparate backgrounds and both sides of the conflict to lend a human face to war. Joey’s encounters illustrate what we already know; war is brutal, random and leaves no one untouched.

The large cast is excellent and Jeremy Irvine has just the right touch of wonder and steadfastness as Albert.

In search of Joey, Albert enlists in the military and becomes one more participant and witness to the cruelty of war and the contradictory slivers of humanity that manage to survive. One of the most affecting moments demonstrates how two men who are made enemies by mere accident of nationality would be more likely to share a beer under normal circumstances.

As Joey violently gallops through a battlefield scared and confused, his desperate flight becomes a metaphor for the senselessness of war.  Even sadder is the knowledge that less than a quarter of a century later the world would once again be at war. Through the eyes of the majestic Joey, the tortured soul and lost innocence of the world is laid bare. Yet, the beauty of War Horse is the window it opens to the miracles that mankind manages to create amid all the destruction.

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