The Horse WhispererReviewed by Jeffrey Rolo
Robert Redford's adaptation of Nicholas Evans' novel The Horse Whisperer inevitably leaves a divided audience, but such divisions are not due to the film itself but rather the nature of it.
Redford (who also directed this movie) plays Tom Booker, a renowned horse whisperer residing in Montana that reluctantly decides to help a young girl (Grace MacLean, played wonderfully by Scarlett Johansson) and her horse, both of which were shattered physically and mentally due to a tragic accident. The story revolves around Booker's gentle, yet firm, work as he slowly heals the deep scars that plague both horse and owner, until eventually they both find the strength to conquer their tragic past.
Robert Redford was a perfect choice for the role of Tom Booker, exhibiting a confident yet subdued air. Scarlett Johansson plays the role of Grace convincingly, and has the potential to become quite an actress in the years to come. Kristin Scott-Thomas plays the role of Grace's mother, Annie, and unfortunately I wasn't quite as impressed with her performance, though that in large part may have been due to her role rather than her acting ability.
The cinematography was also extremely impressive, taking in the beauty of the Western landscapes perfectly. In addition the soundtrack is stirring and very complimentary of the film; it doesn't jar you from the movie or grate on the nerves as so many soundtracks tend to do. Although by no means a classic, when taking all the above into account we're left with a very well done film that Redford should be proud of.
So if everything is so peachy why did I refer to this film as one that leaves a divided audience? Primarily because before walking into the movie, you must understand what you're walking into so that you can properly acknowledge the movie for what it aimed to be, rather than what you hoped it might be.
First, The Horse Whisperer is an adaptation of a book, and every time a movie is released based on a book there will be a sizable amount of fans of the book that proclaim the movie is a travesty compared to the original work. While such fans are often correct, this time I would disagree; the movie takes its time and captures the spirit of the book quite well. The ending of the movie has been changed from the book, but I would say the movie's ending is actually much better. Of course your opinion may differ, which is why divisions are always created with "book versus movie" debates.
Some who enter the movie may believe they are about to watch a film that closely resembles a horse training video, showcasing the techniques of a horse whisperer. Unfortunately people expecting an in-depth study into the arts of natural horsemanship are going to be disappointed since this is a movie, not a Monty Roberts video. We do witness Redford work with the horse, but not to the level where anything could be emulated for personal use.
Finally, although a heavy focus is placed on the healing process between the trainer and his wounded charges, a love story also blossoms between Booker and Annie, the girl's mother. I would not go so far as to say the love story dominates the film, but if like me you aren't really a fan of such content in movies those scenes may tempt you to hit the fast-forward button. To the movie's credit, the love circle was handled with respect; it never reached the levels of "soap opera" cheesiness, so despite the fact I often dislike love stories, my enjoyment of the horse healing storyline was never actually disrupted.
Rated PG-13, The Horse Whisperer is a movie that most middle-aged children and older can view without concern. Although the shocking accident that begins the film can be disturbing to young children, there is no adult content in this movie beyond a couple light vulgarities that can be easily counted with the fingers of one hand.
Like every movie, The Horse Whisperer will not be for everyone, but there is more than enough here to appeal to horse lovers looking for a touching character study between horse and man.