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The Horse Whisperer Movie Review

booker annie robert film

1998 – Robert Redford –

Based on Nicholas Evans' best-selling novel, The Horse Whisperer unfolds through most of its near-three-hour length a bit uncertainly, like a young cowhand tiptoeing atop a fence beam. On the one side is the ripeness of the corral, on the other the soft safety of tall grasses. Ultimately, Robert Redford's film maintains its footing fairly well, though a few moments arise when it totters uneasily. Kristin Scott Thomas plays Annie MacLean, a woman driven in her roles as mother and as magazine editor but not, it seems, as wife. After her fourteen-year-old daughter Grace (Scarlett Johansson) suffers a severe injury and the loss of a leg resulting from a riding fall, Annie searches for ways to help with the healing. She reads about a type of holistic vet called a horse whisperer (someone who can “see into the creature's soul and soothe the wounds they find there”), packs up her daughter and her injured horse (but not her husband) and drives them to Montana, where she hopes Tom Booker (Robert Redford) will be able to calm and train the horse.

The epic dimensions of the story begin in Montana, where the hyperactive New Yorker Annie at once appreciates the beauty of the country but not the wise serenity of its attitudes. The remainder of the film traces her movement from an appreciation of the first to that of the second, which includes a somewhat chaste love affair with Booker. The shots of the Montana terrain, the burnished sunsets, and the endless horizons are exhilarating, and the soundtrack of the film seems to have been given equal consideration (not unusual in the films Redford has directed). The movie is especially good at using sound to suggest character, as in the near-wordless sequence when Annie drives Grace and her horse Pilgrim west. A montage of high-speed truck noises along with the jostle and whinny of the horse in the trailer, one of the most tense moments in the film, immediately recalls the accident that so traumatized Pilgrim and Grace and transmits the horse's fear to the audience. Similarly, the filmmakers use the disruptive beep of Annie's cell phone during Booker's session with Pilgrim to suggest Annie's dislocation in this new landscape. The strains from Dvorak's cello concerto also bring out the more personal side of Booker by recalling his musician wife.

These moments when the film rejects a stereotypical view of character help it maintain a surefooted balance. Just when the songs around the campfire and the western wisdom threaten to become a bit too mawkish, The Horse Whisperer puts some flesh on the waxworks of its characters. Booker confides to Annie about his own unrest in loving and marrying a woman from Chicago who could not adapt to the isolation of the West. Later, he soothes Grace by relating a story about a paralyzing injury to a ranch hand and Booker's inability to understand or communicate his array of feelings. Best of all is the way the film handles the character of the husband (Sam Neill), who arrives at the ranch in the final third of the movie. He senses the love between Booker and his wife and unexpectedly delivers a simple but humanizing speech to her. One way or another, The Horse Whisperer personifies its characters and delivers its points.

Cast: Robert Redford (Tom Booker), Kristin Scott Thomas (Annie MacLean), Sam Neill (Robert MacLean), Scarlett Johansson (Grace MacLean), Dianne Wiest (Diane Booker), Chris Cooper (Frank Booker), Cherry Jones (Liz Hammond), Catherine Bosworth (Judith), Don Edwards (Smokey), Ty Hillman (Joe Booker), Austin Schwartz (Twin #1), Dustin Schwartz (Twin #2), Jeanette Nolan (Ellen Booker), Steve Frye (Hank), Jessalyn Gilsig (Lucy) Screenwriter: Eric Roth, Richard LaGravenese Cinematographer: Robert Richardson Composer: Thomas Newman Producer: Patrick Markey and Robert Redford for Wildwood Productions; released by Touchstone MPAA Rating: PG-13 Running Time: 168 minutes.

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