The Horse Whisperer (1998)

The Horse Whisperer (1998)
  • Time: 170 min
  • Genre: Drama | Romance | Western
  • Director: Robert Redford
  • Cast: Scarlett Johansson, Robert Redford, Kristin Scott Thomas


It is a cold winter night. 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…


  • “The Horse Whisperer” is a reasonable movie dedicated to the horses. It is an emotional and touching movie.

    The highest points, in my opinion, are: the wonderful soundtrack by Thomas Newman, the fabulous and colorful sceneries which appear often (giving it a somewhat magical touch), the dedication to the horses and Robert Redford’s direction and acting. By the way, the gift of the character Tom Booker (played by Robert Redford) towards horses is amazing.

    My major criticism goes to the very long runtime of the movie (more than 2 hours and a half, which is too much) and to the brief romance between Tom Booker and Annie MacLean. Not that I’m against romance, but because these characters’s romance is a romance without a future. Besides, this movie is slow and tends to be a bit boring, becoming literally tiring.

    I like the performances by Robert Redford, Kristin Scott Thomas, Sam Neill and Scarlett Johansson (this is one of her earliest roles).

    Despite being mostly a dramatic story, this movie has also some humor. Even dramas usually have their comical side, also called a “comic relief”.

  • I caught a recent television broadcast of Under the Cherry Moon, a vanity project directed by and starring the Artist formerly known as Prince. In it, a young, vibrant Kristin Scott Thomas floated above the leaden flotsam — a star has rarely been born in such inauspicious circumstances.

    Since then, Scott Thomas has established herself as a highly capable actress whose specialty tended towards acerbic bachelorettes (Four Weddings and a Funeral) and repressed spinsters (Angels and Insects). [With all due respect to Jennifer Jason Leigh, Scott Thomas would have made a smashing Catherine Sloper, the insecure heiress in Washington Square.] So proficient was she in etching committedly dark and flawed characters that one critic likened her to a female Daniel Day-Lewis. Then The English Patient came along and revolutionized Scott Thomas’ brittle, aristo image. Tanned, sandswept and unbearably glamorous, she combined the aristocratic breeziness of Katharine Hepburn with the simmering, undercurrent passion of Grace Kelly.

    I say all this because her intelligence and mild hauteur, which serve as the foundation to her best performances, are the very qualities which undermine her performance in Robert Redford’s latest directorial effort, The Horse Whisperer.

    Scott Thomas portrays New York magazine editor Annie MacLean, whose daughter Grace (Scarlett Johansson) has lost a leg in a brutal horseback riding accident. Despite her husband’s misgivings, Annie decides to take Grace and her horse, Pilgrim, to Montana to meet Tom Booker (Redford). Initially commissioned to rehabilitate Pilgrim, Booker soon helps to rebuild Annie and Grace’s rocky relationship as well as commencing a serious flirtation with Annie.

    During her stay in Montana, Annie makes the transition from brittle, patrician wife to an earthy, sensual woman. What is needed during this transformation is a display of vulnerability on Scott Thomas’ part. The actress makes it work — her talent is bountiful, after all — but you see the work, especially in her scenes with Redford. The girlishness that must hint at the woman underneath the facade is at odds with Scott Thomas’ inherent intelligence. It is not that she wouldn’t be dissuaded by Redford’s Tom Booker, it’s that she seems far too clever for this game.

    Despite her miscasting and quite possibly because of it, The Horse Whisperer succeeds as both an old-fashioned romance and picturesque drama. Redford elicits natural, laidback performances from Chris Cooper and Dianne Wiest, as Booker’s brother and sister-in-law, respectively. Johansson as Grace is a precious find. Possessed of an Uma Thurmanesque face, she gives an impressive performance as the physically and emotionally scarred girl. Only Sam Neill as Annie’s husband is underused.

    Redford, who directs himself for the first time, delivers a charming movie star performance. As a director, he does not waste a frame of film. That’s quite an achievement considering the film nearly runs three hours and Redford indulges in a vanity shot or two (quite pardonable since Redford isn’t as in love with himself as Warren Beatty is). Redford keeps the film at a deliberate pace and takes his time in unfolding the narrative. A good gambit as he has a great feel for the material which weds two of his films’ running themes: autopsies of waspish paradise (Ordinary People, Quiz Show) and ordinary people in mythic landscapes (The Milagro Beanfield War, A River Runs Through It).

    The union succeeds partly because of Redford’s eye for small, telling gestures (Annie straightening the tablecloth, a look Grace gives Annie or even the setting down of cuff links) and his understandable love of the Montana landscape. To say this film is stunningly photographed is to say we breathe to live; there are so many brazenly beautiful images here.

    The most noteworthy sequence is the axis on which the film spins: Grace and Pilgrim’s horrifying accident which results in the death of Grace’s best friend as well as Grace and Pilgrim’s physical and emotional wounds. This sequence is preceded, and later interspersed with, scenes of the girls meeting. It is early morning. The sunrise is still a shadow. Snow as far as the eye can see. It is an unearthly winter’s dream. Two girls. So much life. Minutes later. The lambs have been slaughtered.

    Click here for more reviews at the etc-etera site

Leave a Reply to Ed Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *