[Screen It]


(1998) (Robert Redford, Kristin Scott Thomas) (PG-13)

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Drama: A mother brings her daughter and the girl's horse, both of whom are emotionally and physically scarred after a terrible accident, to a man she believes can help heal both of them.
Grace MacLean (SCARLETT JOHANSSON) is a fourteen-year-old girl who gets into a terrible riding accident while astride her prized horse, Pilgrim. Both are severely injured and not only does Grace lose part of her leg, but her best friend is killed as well. To make matters worse, after recovering from his injuries, Pilgrim is not the same and has seemingly turned wild.

Grace's mother, Annie (KRISTIN SCOTT THOMAS), a harried magazine editor, and her lawyer father, Robert (SAM NEIL), can't figure out what to do about her depressed and withdrawn state. Learning about Tom Booker (ROBERT REDFORD), a man known for his gift of curing troubled horses, Annie packs up Grace and Pilgrim and heads to Montana, hoping that by helping the horse, he may simultaneously do the same for Grace. Although initially reluctant to help, Tom finally agrees. Annie and Grace then meet Tom's brother, Frank (CHRIS COOPER), his wife, Diane (DIANE WIEST), and their kids, including Joe (TY HILLMAN), a well-mannered young man.

As Tom begins working with Pilgrim, Annie and Grace slowly begin to let go off their problems as Tom's confidant and reassuring ways, and the beautiful and open Montana landscape, help them unwind. While Pilgrim continually gets better, however, both Annie and Tom begin falling for each other, a predicament neither expected.

If they're fans of the novel, of someone in the cast, or of horses in general, they probably will.
For a disturbing accident scene.
  • ROBERT REDFORD plays a soft-spoken, but confident rancher who not only helps Pilgrim heal, but also helps both Grace and Annie with their problems. If he has any fault, it's that he allows himself to fall for Annie who he knows is married.
  • KRISTIN SCOTT THOMAS plays Grace's harried and worried mother whose big city rudeness slowly evaporates under the joint spell of Tom's demeanor and Montana's laid back and beautiful atmosphere. Like Tom, she allows herself to fall for him despite being married.
  • SCARLETT JOHANSSON plays the fourteen-year-old girl whose leg is partially amputated after a bad riding accident. The depression from that, coupled with typical teenage angst, makes her angry and upset early on, but she later lets go of that.
  • TY HILLMAN plays Tom's well-mannered, young nephew who is the perfect dream child that any parent could wish for.


    OUR TAKE: 8 out of 10
    Similar in many ways with 1995's big screen adaption of "The Bridges of Madison County," Robert Redford's latest film, "The Horse Whisperer," is an emotionally compelling picture that features great performances, superb directing, and all around wonderful technical credits. Perhaps a bit too long and jettisoning some of the material from Nicholas Evans' original novel -- that may or may not upset its faithful fans -- the film should please audiences looking for mature storytelling in a season brimming with action-oriented fare.

    Like "Bridges," this film features a middle-aged sex symbol who directs himself in a slow moving, but emotionally gripping story about a strong and confident silent-type who finds himself falling for a married woman in a wonderful country setting. While kids will obviously get a major case of the fidgets trying to sit through this film -- just like in Clint Eastwood's picture -- their parents and other adults should find this quite to their liking.

    Directing himself for the first time, Robert Redford excels in both departments, and if ever a role was seemingly written for him, the part of Tom Booker is it. While Redford could have simply and easily played this character as the typical, near silent man who occasionally speaks learned words of wisdom, he instead creates an amazingly complex man who's experienced more of life than one initially suspects.

    Of course much of the credit belongs to Evans for creating the character in the first place, but also to screenwriters Eric Roth ("Forrest Gump") and Richard LaGravenese ("The Fisher King") who do a wonderful job with all of the characters (and some marvelously compelling scenes). Even so, Redford gives the character that special touch that only he -- and a few other gifted performers -- can manage.

    Kristin Scott Thomas ("The English Patient") is wonderful in her role as the concerned and harried mom and executive who eventually succumbs to the charm and beauty of the landscape of both Montana and Redford's chiseled face. Like Redford, she easily could have portrayed her character in the stereotypical "worried mother of a troubled teen" fashion, but Thomas brings so much more to her role.

    The rest of the performances are first-rate across the board. Scarlett Johansson ("Manny and Lo") is quite believable as the teenager saddled not only with normal teenage angst, but also with the worry that no one will ever be attracted to her due to her altered physical appearance. Sam Neill ("Jurassic Park") is as good as ever playing the concerned and loving father, while Dianne Wiest ("Hannah and Her Sisters") is delightful in her smaller supporting role. The fellow who nearly steals the show, however, is Ty Hillman as Redford's young nephew. Making his acting debut, eleven-year-old Ty not only seems a natural in front of the camera, but he also plays such a well-mannered and behaved boy that you'd wish every child could be like him.

    Technical credits are outstanding as well, and the lovingly photographed aerial footage of the majestic Montana landscape could easily have been shot for the state's tourism department. Redford, who won a best directing Oscar for "Ordinary People" and already displayed his admiration of the great West with "A River Runs Through It" and "The Milagro Beanfield War," certainly gets the best from his award winning cinematographer, Robert Richardson ("JFK," "Born on the Fourth of July"). Not only is the aerial footage stunning, but the interior work -- where he often uses massive amounts of contrast to give the light coming in through the windows and doors a near "heavenly" look -- is equally impressive.

    As is the score from composer Thomas Newman ("The Shawshank Redemption") that equally captures the splendor of the scenery. One also can't forget the work of Buck Brannaman who is the film's equine technical advisor. Redford was reportedly determined to get the horse training scenes right -- figuring that those are a big part of the story -- and they certainly seem realistic enough to this untrained eye.

    Criticisms are few and far in between, but there are a few things to consider. Having never read the Evans novel and only knowing the barest of facts concerning it, I can't assuredly state how much of the story has been changed. However, I do understand that they have altered some things and faithful readers of the original novel might not like those changes (as is often the case with cinematic versions of popular literary works).

    Also, we never really get to know the how's and why's pertaining to Tom Booker's horse whispering gift. That is, other than the fact that he's capable of standing and staring for long periods of time that would stretch a normal person's patience and endurance. Of course we're supposed to accept and believe that his gift is somewhat mystical -- similar to the effects that the charm of the countryside has on the characters and the audience -- so this isn't too big a dilemma and isn't hard to swallow.

    The film's biggest problem, however, is its length. At something approaching three hours (about 2:45), the film begins to feel a bit long about half way through (when most typical movies are beginning to near their conclusion). While I understand that Redford is allowing the laid back story and its wonderful scenery to calm us down from most of our frantic, rat race days, some judicious editing could have shortened the film without losing any major content. Long films like "Titanic" can support their "butt numbing" duration with action and high suspense, but a picture like this may just test some moviegoer's patience.

    It will be interesting to see how the movie's length will affect its box office returns since it doesn't have that "Titanic" draw (the famous story and the heartthrob cast for the teen audience) and its run time will limit how many times it can be shown in any given day. Fortunately, the film looks great and the captivating performances and wonderful direction from Redford easily make up for the long time in the theater. I can't say how fans of the original novel will react to this adaption, but for those of us who never read it, this is a wonderful picture that nearly all of the family can enjoy together. We give "The Horse Whisperer" an 8 out of 10.

    With just a few exceptions, there's nearly nothing of major consequence to object to in this film. The initial horseback riding accident scene is quite harrowing, and it and the subsequent shots of the injured horse and the fact that Grace has part of her leg amputated might be unnerving to younger kids. Her "disfigurement" and typical teenage angst do provide for a few tense family moments (especially between mother and daughter), and the parents' marriage isn't on the steadiest of ground.

    Annie (the married woman) and Tom nearly have an affair, and although they do kiss in one scene, nothing else ever comes of it. Profanity is mild due to three "s" words, but beyond that, most of the other categories have little or no major objectionable content. Even so, you may want to take a quick look through the scene listings just to make sure for yourself or for anyone else in your home who may want to see this picture.

  • Annie and Robert have some wine with dinner.
  • After a hard day of work on the farm, Annie asks whether it's "cocktail hour" yet.
  • The adults have wine with dinner at the Booker's home.
  • Robert and others drink beer at a country dance.
  • We see some blood in the snow at the accident scene. We then see Pilgrim whose snout is torn up and quite bloody, as is his leg that appears to be severely broken. Later, we see a bit more blood in the snow.
  • Later, we see a big, ugly scar on the side of Pilgrim's snout.
  • Annie allows herself to fall for Tom although she's married (and Tom allows himself to fall for her knowing that she's married). However, other than one brief kiss, nothing ever comes of this.
  • Grace has both, not only from being angry and confused over what happened to her, but also from normal teenage angst. Thus, she ignores her mom in a few scenes and argues with her in a several others.
  • The initial horseback riding scene is quite harrowing and may be frightening to some, and at least unnerving to many other viewers. In it, Grace and her friend try to climb a snow-covered hill on their horses that begin to slide backwards. One eventually slides into the other and both careen down the hill until they land on a snow-covered road. A large, approaching truck then locks its wheels and uncontrollably slides toward them, striking Pilgrim and running over and killing the other girl (the latter isn't explicitly seen).
  • Some people try to grab Pilgrim and sedate him in a darkened tunnel (that younger kids might find scary).
  • Some younger kids may be frightened by Pilgrim's newfound "wild" behavior and the way the humans are now wary of him.
  • As Annie drives down the interstate, she finds herself surrounded by large trucks (like the one from the accident) and the sounds and proximity of the trucks makes this scene just a bit tense.
  • Rifle: Held by an officer while people stand at the accident scene.
  • Phrases: "Bloody" (the British adjective), "Geez," "Shut up," "Stupid" and what sounded like "Turd" (said by kids).
  • Pilgrim kicks a fence (from out of the dark) and surprises Tom (and some in the audience).
  • A few scenes have a mild amount of suspenseful music in them.
  • None.
  • 3 "s" words, 2 hells, 2 damns, 1 S.O.B., and 4 uses of "Oh God," and 1 use each of "Swear to God," "Oh Jesus," "Christ," "For God's sakes" and "Sweet Jesus" as exclamations.
  • Frank and Diane's youngest boys look at an ad in Annie's magazine that shows a model in some underwear and they point and laugh at her belly button.
  • None.
  • Annie and Robert must deal with Grace's injury (in the hospital) and then her recovery where she's depressed, withdrawn and/or lashes out at them.
  • Annie and Robert, while not explicitly stated, obviously have a strained marriage and that becomes further strained due to Grace's injury (about which they argue) and later when Annie falls for Tom.
  • Annie and Grace have a few rough mother/daughter moments (arguing) due to Grace's depression, but also due to her typical teenage angst. Grace tells her mom, "I used to pray every night that you and dad would have another kid so I wouldn't have to be so special."
  • There's some brief talk about Annie's father dying when she was twelve, and of Tom being divorced.
  • That life can deal an unexpected "hand" that may look bad at first, but often has something of a silver lining or at least can be overcome.
  • Amputation and the fact that people can survive and lead a completely productive life after such surgery (Grace tells her mother that maybe they should have "put me down -- I'm not of much use anymore." Later, she asks who's going to "...want me like this?").
  • Whether they should have "put down" (anesthetized) Pilgrim due to his injuries.
  • If such "horse whisperers" really exist and, if so, how they do what they do.
  • Grace's friend is killed, Grace is injured (requiring a partial amputation of her leg) and Pilgrim is severely wounded during a freak truck accident on a snowy road.

  • Reviewed May 7, 1998

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