May 18, 1998 -- Robert Redford's "The Horse Whisperer" is one of those rare movies about the West that gets the setting, the mood of the West right.
The story is about a dysfunctional family struck by tragedy when a young girl is in a terrible riding accident. She loses part of her leg. Her friend loses her life and her horse is terribly injured.
Conventional wisdom is that the emotionally-scarred and uncontrollable horse should be euthanized or "put down." When the depressed daughter, Grace MacLean (Scarlett Johansson) suggests that she, too, be "put down," her mother Annie (Kristin Scott Thomas of "The English Patient"), decides the horse must be saved.
Reading about Tom Booker (Robert Redford) who has an uncanny knack for relating to horses, a so-called "horse whisperer," Annie decides to seek his help. Booker refuses to come to her, so she takes the horse and her daughter to him.
The rest of the story has to do with the healing process of Annie, her daughter, the horse and Booker himself. This complex interrelationship is explored in depth in this slow moving, but absorbing film.
In one scene the horse runs away. Booker squats down in a field, some distance from the horse and waits all day for the horse to come to him. The film is like that. It is patient, gentle and unhurried. Like Booker, the film waits for you to warm up to it. The film lacks the hurried pace of city life. There are those, even in Laramie, who just won't get it.
I did have some problems with the film. Kirsten Scott Thomas, while a fine actress, didn't seem strong enough to be the editor of a national publication. Her husband, played by Sam Neill, seemed very ill-defined in the story. He shows up late and proves to be the weak corner of a lover's triangle.
The actors in the film, from the main characters to the supporting cast, including Dianne Wiest and Sam Neill are superb with the exception of Kirsten Scott Thomas. The photography by Robert Richardson is magnificent as is the musical score by Thomas Newman. This is a beautiful movie, but not for those in a hurry. It rates a B.
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