Kneeling stoically in a field of tall grass, Robert Redford, as
horse whisperer Tom Booker, locks eyes with Pilgrim, a wild horse with
a troubled past, who is a hundred yards away. With Zen-like composure,
Tom doesn't flinch as the hours drag on and the day begins to fade. As
the wide Montana skies turn a golden orange, he finally wins this
latest battle of wills with the horse. With sagacity and
determination, Tom has much to teach the equine and human characters in
this delicate drama.
Robert Redford, whose only Oscar was for his direction of the
brilliant and devastating ORDINARY PEOPLE from 1980, accepts the
challenge of directing himself in the starring role in THE HORSE
WHISPERER. Quite unlike what passes for drama today, THE HORSE
WHISPERER contains deeply felt and complex emotions but without
shouting or profanity. Based on Nicholas Evans's best seller, the
script by Richard LaGravenese (A LITTLE PRINCESS) and Eric Roth
(FORREST GUMP) is in no hurry to tell the story, which unfolds as
naturally as a mountain wildflower. Coming in at just under three
hours - Redford's first cut was close to four, the movie so mesmerizes
you that your only complaint is likely to be that you wish it were
The film starts with a horrible accident between two young teenage
girls on horseback and a large tractor-trailer truck. The movie
centers around the two survivors; a girl named Grace MacLean, played
with grace by Scarlett Johansson, and Pilgrim, played by six different
and incredibly talented horses. Grace loses part of her leg, and
Pilgrim is so badly injured that the vet recommends "putting him down."
Grace is the daughter of hard-driving, Manhattan magazine
publisher Annie and ever-agreeable lawyer Robert. Kristin Scott
Thomas, nominated for an Academy Award for her romantic role in THE
ENGLISH PATIENT, is the slowly metamorphosing Annie. Starting out as
cold as ice, she transforms into quite a different character. As
Robert, character actor Sam Neill imbues the role with just the right
mixture of bland but genuine allegiance to his family.
After Kristen Scott Thomas reads in eloquent voice-over the
definition of a horse whisperer, Annie calls up Tom in Montana to ask
him to help Pilgrim. "Truth is, I help horses with people problems,"
Tom explains to her. He turns Annie down, which in her best business
demeanor she refuses to accept. "Am I being too polite here?" he asks.
"Does 'no' in Montana mean 'yes' where you are?"
Soon Annie and a reluctant Grace are off with Pilgrim in tow,
crossing the country in hopes of getting Tom to change his mind. This
trip gives Oscar winning cinematographer Robert Richardson (JFK) one of
many opportunities to dazzle us with his exquisite work. As they drive
through farmland in the country's heartland, Richardson films them from
on high. Their car cuts through the patchwork quilt of fields as the
film's score hits one majestic note after another, all overlaid with
the chatter of their car radio picking up static-filled, local
stations. Richardson is even better with the close-ups than the
sweeping vistas. The intricate raindrops on the windshield are one of
the many little treats he serves up for us.
"Do they have any signs around here?" Annie asks Grace. "What
would they say?" Grace asks looking around at the lovely but remote
terrain. "10 miles to big rock. 20 miles to bigger rock."
Although the script does have these occasional bits of humor, it
is in the wisdom, in the character development and - yes, Redford fans
- in the romance where it is most compelling. With his ruggedly
handsome face that speaks of many never-to-be-told mysteries, Redford
is an actor for every generation. His little smile is guaranteed to
win every heart in the audience in an instant.
The best of the story's simple, wisdom-filled scenes has Annie and
Tom reflecting on parts of their lives. Annie says she envies Tom's
elderly mother, who is at an age in which she has no more decisions to
make and in which she can savor the good decisions in her life as well
as the bad ones. During this soul bearing Annie asks Tom how he knew
that his long-since divorced wife was not right for him. "Knowing it
is the easy part," he tells her. "Saying it out loud is the hard
I fell head over heels in love with this powerful but subtle
movie. And audiences may again become infatuated with the 61-year-old
Redford, proving that age makes no difference when it comes to love.
THE HORSE WHISPERER runs 2:44. It is rated PG-13 for one
disturbing accident scene and would be fine for kids around 10 and up.
Copyright © 1998 Steve Rhodes