The Horse Whisperer (1998)

The Horse Whisperer (1998)
 
 
 

Pilgrim's Progress

It's not a question of if you can, you are - Tom Booker

Robert Redford and Scarlett Johansson in The Horse Whisperer

"The Horse Whisperer" is the sort of movie you need to watch when all you have watched is one mediocre movie after another and it's getting to you. Not because it is a classic but because it has heart and is made by someone who not only gets the story but cares about making a movie something special. That person is director Robert Redford whose creative vision for this tale, his pacing, eye for a shot, blend of drama, romance and light hearted moments is simply impecable. It is because Redford crafts such a beautiful movie, drawing superior performances from his stars that this story which could easily have been slushy and sentimental comes alive and draws us in to every single second of what happens.

Following a riding accident with a truck on a snowy road, Grace MacLean (Scarlett Johansson - Home Alone 3) is left both injured and troubled as is her horse Pilgrim which has become a wild creature with fear in its eyes. Determined to help them both Grace's workaholic and controlling mother Annie (Kristin Scott Thomas - Mission: Impossible) takes them both to Montana where she has heard about Tom Booker (Robert Redford - Sneakers) a 'horse whisperer, in the hope that he can use his gift to heal Pilgrim and in doing so help in Grace's healing progress. What Annie didn't expect is to fall in love with him as well.

Sam Neill and Kristin Scott Thomas in The Horse Whisperer

I've not read Nick Evans novel which "The Horse Whisperer" is adapted from but I get a sense that not only have Eric Roth & Richard LaGravenese done it justice in creating the screenplay but that Robert Redford understood it, got the meaning beneath the words. He must of because this story which combines several elements from the physically and emotionally scarred Grace MacLean, her relationship with her workaholic mother, her parents relationship to each other as well as a romance between her mother and Tom Booker could easily have been turned into an overly sweet romantic dirge. But instead Redford crafts each of these elements weaving them together as he delivers romance, drama, healing as well as a touch of light hearted ness to give the audience something more that just a picturesque movie; he gives them something which has heart. And it is because "The Horse Whisperer" has heart it becomes engrossing and a movie which rewards you every time you watch it.

So as already mentioned there are several storylines going on but before we get to them we get the accident and let me say for what is a very beautiful movie Redford doesn't shy away from delivering the horror of this accident. To put it simply it is startling as whilst you may be expecting something you don't expect what comes and the sheer visual intensity of it. And Redford doesn't stop just there as in the aftermath of the accident we witness Grace's horse not only look aggressive with its physical scars but act like a wild creature. I will say it again and won't ever apologize for it but Redford crafts this opening in such away that he sucks us in to every second of drama and letting us understand the fear, not just of Grace but of her horse Pilgrim taking us deep into the eyes of this scared animal.

But that is just the intro to what is the main storyline which takes us to the beautiful Montana countryside, a location which Redford previous used for the equally beautiful "A River Runs Through It", and in to the world of Tom Booker and his gift for understanding horses, although that gift seems as much about understanding humans as well. Now what we have here are those main storylines, we have Tom and his incredible patience helping to turn Pilgrim from a crazed horse into a majestic animal and at the same time helping Grace overcome her fears and to basically heal following the traumatic accident. But we also get the romance as Tom and Annie fall for each other whilst the shadow of Annie's purely functionary marriage looms over them. The thing about all of this is that the emotional tales are not overly unique and in many ways are played out in the way you expect building up to that big decision for Annie. But because Robert Redford never loses control of their sweet nature it never once becomes too slushy which is what could have so easily happened.

The reason being is that as already mentioned Redford seems to understand the story from beneath the words and so rather than just giving us a movie with a beautiful romance he gives us one which also has a heart beat, has that depth so that whilst we may love the way Tom and Annie fall for each other the whole time the emotional conflict is ever present. And it's not just in the romance as he also understands the emotional depth of Grace's character, the fear and hurt that this character is going through and manages to bring that to life. Yet at the same time as doing all this he manages to create on beautiful scene after another, be it the artistically creative opening credits, or the sun lit Montana landscape it simply grabs you and never lets you go. But it never becomes just a picture postcard movie; he blends it beautifully with the story to create a fully rounded experience for your eyes, ears, mind and heart.

And to top this off Redford also gets some exceptional performances from his cast and in particular young Scarlett Johansson as Grace. Johansson has grown into a top actress but even back here you can see how good she is delivering elements of teenage rebellion as she doesn't get on with her mother but also the element of physical and emotional damage, giving us the stunning scene where she pours out her heart to Tom as she relives the accident for him. Less surprising is the equally good performance from Kristin Scott Thomas whose beauty radiates from deep within as we watch her workaholic pushy character change the more time she spends in the fresh air of Montana. But it is all the cast be it the pairing of Chris Cooper and Dianne Wiest or Sam Neill as Grace's father who deliver wonderful performances and that includes Redford himself who looks so at home on the ranch and in the Montana air that you forget he is acting.

What this all boils down to is that "The Horse Whisperer" is a very special movie, a movie which shows you how good a movie can be when the people behind it get it on a deeper level and care about the end result. There is to be honest little wrong with it and is up there if not better than Redford's stunning "A River Runs Through It".

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