The Horse Whisperer

1998, Movie, PG-13, 164 mins


Curl your cynical lip if you want, but there's a place for heartwarming, life-affirming, even weepy dramas, and Robert Redford brings the best-selling novel about a traumatized teen and her wounded horse to the screen with dignity and restraint. Annie MacLean (Kristen Scott Thomas) is a magazine editor who's let her career erode her relationships with husband Robert (Sam Neil) and teenage daughter Grace (Scarlett Johansson). With her best friend Judith (Catherine Bosworth), Grace has a terrible riding accident involving a truck and an icy road: Judith dies, while Grace and her beloved horse Pilgrim are maimed. Annie recognizes that Grace, who lost a leg in the accident, sees herself in Pilgrim and is drawing a terrible conclusion from everyone's advice to have Pilgrim put out of his misery. Marshaling her considerable resources, Annie finds "horse whisperer" Tom Booker (Redford) -- "horse whisperer" is a vaguely mystical-sounding way of saying he's got a way with animals -- and hauls Pilgrim and Grace out to Booker's remote Montana ranch in hopes of persuading him to work his healing magic on both. Fans of the book probably won't mind the story changes wrought by Redford and screenwriters Eric Roth and Richard LaGravanese, and cynics just might find themselves pleasantly surprised. It's easy to make fun of earnest, therapy-tinged Sturm und Drang in which everyone has issues -- Annie has control issues, Grace has body-image issues, Pilgrim has trust issues -- but somewhere around the one (of nearly three) hour mark, the urge to snicker at the picture postcard big-sky vistas, soulful gazing deep into various eyes and formulaic clash of city slickers and just plain folks abates in the face of Redford's quiet confidence that Annie, Grace and Tom have an interesting and emotionally rich story to tell about love and loyalties. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh

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