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The Horse Whisperer

The Horse Whisperer
Scarlett Johansson

Scarlett Johansson

Screen Time: 50%
Role: Grace MacLean
Age: 13 years old

 

The Horse Whisperer

1998
Rating: 6.33 (3 votes)
Directed: Robert Redford
Country: USA
Language: English
Genre: Drama, Romance
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0119314

Summary

It is a cold winter day. Grace and her best friend Judith go for a ride with their horses, but a terrible accident changes her life forever. A truck hits them, Judith and her horse are killed, while Grace and her horse Pilgrim are seriously injured, both physically and mentally. In an attempt to bring Pilgrim back from his now savage condition, Grace's mother Annie takes them to Montana in search for Tom Booker. Tom is a "horse whisperer", a cowboy with the ability to "communicate" with horses. In the land of the Wild West Annie will change the way she sees life forever, as the wise cowboy slowly heals the souls of Pilgrim and Grace...

Movie Reviews

Robert Redford's gone Clint Eastwood one further in taking a critically maligned book (Eastwood did "The Bridges of Madison County") and turning it into a classy motion picture. While Eastwood changed the tone of his material, Redford's taken more drastic steps, changing major aspects of the story and improving it. Tom and Annie's affair is never consummated and Tom doesn't die. The first change gives the film moral complexities and the second just makes more sense.

Redford opens his film with the accident and it's gripping filmmaking. Grace's joy at being at the country home with her Dad in a snow covered terrain where she's about to go riding with her best friend is palpable. As the accident nears, Redford's shots go in closer and closer, pulling the viewer in. These scenes are intercut with Annie beginning her day in a New York City apartment where she holds a high pressure job as a fashion magazine editor. She's established as a control freak who's used to orderring people around and getting her way. Her daily phone call to her husband is pleasant if perfunctory.

This world is shattered when Annie's friend's horse stumbles in the ice and slides down a slope with the rider caught in her stirrup. Grace attempts to pull the horse back by its reins when the four are caught by an oncoming truck. Annie's friend and her horse are killed, Grace loses her leg below the knee, Pilgrim is severely injured and traumatized and a family's world is shattered. Grace becomes depressed and non-communicative towards her take-charge mother, who has made the impractical decision to not have Pilgrim put down.

Redford opens his film up to magnificent widescreen when the two women and Pilgrim take to the road. Tom Booker runs a cattle ranch in Redford's beloved American west with his brother Frank (Chris Cooper, "Lone Star") and sister-in-law Diane (Dianne Wiest) and their three boys. Booker patiently works with Pilgrim, slowly gaining the horse's trust. In one wonderful sequence, when Annie's perpetual cell phone scares the horse into running away, Booker sits in a field all day until, finally, Pilgrim comes to him. Grace begins to flower as Booker involves her in the ranch life and his young nephew shows her genuine friendship and only mild curiousity about her artificial limb. Annie's brittleness begins to dissolve and she and Booker tentatively fall in love. Booker is not a man to act rashly, however, and when Robert appears on the scene late in the film, Booker surpresses his own desires and forces Annie to do some soul searching.

The role of Tom Booker is tailor made for Redford and he makes the most of it, never appearing saintly and continually surprising us. (Although Redford has made Booker and Annie's affair chaste, they have a slow dance that's one of the sexiest and most poignant scenes ever filmed between two 'lovers,' as Robert chats with the locals on the sidelines.)

Kristen Scott Thomas delivers a complex performance as Annie, confident in her own world, yet tentative outside of it. She can appear cold and emotional, hard-hearted and nuturing. Scarlett Johansson ("Manny and Lo") is simply wonderful as Grace. Her blossoming as she regains confidence is perfectly paced and her new-found relationship with her mother unfolds beautifully (she will break your heart when she finally unburdens her soul to Annie, asking how anyone will ever want her as she is now). The camera loves Johansson's face framed by a bouncy pageboy, accented with an upturned nose. Wiest is a natural as a rancher's wife concerned with the rash relationship developping between her brother-in-law and Annie. Cooper and Neill are solid.

Behind the camera credits are all top notch, from the adapted screenplay by Eric Roth and Richard LaGravenese (who, coincidentally, adapted "Bridges") to the glorious cinematography by Robert Richardson. The score by Thomas Newman is somber, yet majestic when warranted.

I've heard complaints that "The Horse Whisperer" is too long at 168 minutes, but I found it to be a compelling, adult film that transports you into another world.