The Horse Whisperer

on May 15, 1998 by Cathy Thompson-Georges
   To no one's great surprise, Nicholas Evans' screenplay dressed as a novel has made it to the screen. Sort of a "Bridges of My Little Pony," "The Horse Whisperer" combines a soppy forbidden romance with a soppy tale of redemption after disaster. Put together, that's tear-jerker heaven--for audiences that like sort of thing.
   At the outset, adorable teen Grace (Scarlett Johansson) is involved in a terrible accident that leaves her best friend dead, her leg amputated, and her horse Pilgrim horribly scarred and untouchable. Like her horse, Grace has become skittish and unreachable, so her over-achieving mother Annie (Kristin Scott Thomas) packs gal and galloper up and hauls them from New York to Montana to see "horse whisperer" Tom Booker (Robert Redford), who boasts that "I don't break horses--I gentle them." Tom proves to be the sort of movie-romance guy who's so wise and folksy and gentle yet masculine that some might want to punch him in the mouth. As he takes both Grace and Pilgrim in hand and nurses them back to health, it's obviously just a matter of time before high-powered magazine executive Annie falls for him and his manly ways.
   Montana looks stunning on film, and so do the horses. So, to no one's surprise, does Scott Thomas. The cinematography of "The Horse Whisperer" is truly lovely, lush and somber, lending a sheen of class to the whole enterprise. Also lovely is Johansson's naturalistic performance as Grace; she outshines the hackneyed romance between the adults whenever she takes the screen.
   But Redford's decision to cast himself in a role as the sophisticated woman's Fabio seems a bit hubristic, and Evans' dialogue grows from trite to painful when Redford and Scott Thomas pitch woo. "The Horse Whisperer" is a calculated heart-tugging machine, as soulless and efficient in its own way as "Twister" or "Independence Day"; instead of a "thrill-ride," it's a trip through the tunnel of love.    Starring Robert Redford, Kristin Scott Thomas, Sam Neill, Scarlett Johansson and Dianne Weist. Directed by Robert Redford. Written by Eric Roth and Richard LaGravenese. Produced by Robert Redford and Patrick Markey. A Buena Vista release. Drama. Rated PG-13 for a disturbing accident scene. Running time: 176 min.
Tags: Robert Redford, Kristin Scott Thomas, Sam Neill, Scarlett Johansson and Dianne Weist. Directed by Robert Redford. Written by Eric Roth and Richard LaGravenese. Produced by Robert Redford and Patrick Markey. A Buena Vista, dram

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