The Horse Whisperer

Reviewed by Dan Lybarger

May 17, 1998

The Horse Whisperer has several fine components, but it makes a messy whole. Despite some fine performances and intelligent touches, director Robert Redford never overcomes a nagging feeling of incredulity.

Grace Maclean (Scarlett Johansson) may have lost part of her leg in a riding accident, but the mishap took a bigger toll on her soul. Her best friend died, and her beloved horse Pilgrim is wounded and behaves in an unstable manner. When the veterinarian tells Grace's workaholic mom, Annie (Kristin Scott Thomas from The English Patient) that the animal is better off dead, Annie refuses to have Pilgrim put down. Knowing that the horse's recovery may save her daughter from a deepening gloom, she contacts a Montana horse trainer named Tom Booker (Redford). Booker doesn't break horses; he can tame disagreeable horses with a reassuring glance. Annie leaves New York with both Grace and the crazy horse, hoping that Booker can somehow heal both.

The setup has some possibility, but screenwriters Eric Roth (Forrest Gump) and Richard LaGravenese (The Bridges of Madison County), working from the novel by Nicholas Evans, telegraph the emotional thrust of every scene. We know an accident is coming because Grace is taking a shortcut. Big domestic arguments seem almost to happen on cue. At times, it's as if there is a sign flashing on the screen, announcing that it's time to cry. As a result, The Horse Whisperer remains painfully obvious. The movie also suffers from tired city-verses-country clichés and from Redford's limp pacing (the movie runs around two and-a-half hours, and feels it). The anemic ending doesn't do much good, either.

It should be noted that despite its rather heavy-handed attempts at pathos, The Horse Whisperer is far from a bad film. There is solid craftsmanship throughout. Oliver Stone stalwart Robert Richardson's cinematography is remarkably creative and breathtaking. There's always something to look at, even if the story goes flat. Montana is marvelously captured, and the colors have a fascinating muted quality. The dialogue has some clever passages (the remarks about an ideal vacation are quite funny), and Thomas is terrific in the lead. She and Redford never shed their clothes, but sparks occasionally fly.

Still there's only so much that craftsmanship can salvage from something as programmed and maudlin as this. The Horse Whisperer does tug at your emotions, but its constant tugging gets rather numbing (PG-13). Rating: 5.

 Additional Links

Robert Redford is the founder of the Sundance Institute, which has been vital to the rise of independent film. Click here to learn more.

Click here for a look a Redford fan page.

Click here to order the novel of The Horse Whisperer in hard cover or paperback.

Click here to order the companion volume to the movie.


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This page was last updated on 05/17/98.
Ó 1998 Dan Lybarger



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