In what may be (and probably should be) Robert Redford’s last romantic leading role, he has chosen to adapt Nicholas Evan’s popular pulp romantic novel Yet, while the Horse Whisperer is a beautiful film to watch, its romance never gets aflame.
After a riding accident in upstate New York, young Grace MacLean (Scarlett Johansson) is seriously injured, and her horse, Pilgrim, is wounded and crazed. Grace’s mother, Annie (Kristin Scott Thomas) believes the horse is the key to rehabilitating her despondent daughter. If Pilgrim can recover, perhaps her daughter can as well.
To this end, Annie seeks out the country’s best horse doctor. She discovers an article about Tom Booker (Robert Redford), a horse whisperer who applies patience and an intuitive understanding to horses and their problems. Even though an initial contact with Tom proves fruitless, Annie resolves to haul Grace and Pilgrim halfway across the country to Tom’s Montana ranch.
There, with her bullheaded ways, she convinces Tom to help retame Pilgrim. Over the weeks which follow, she gets to know Tom and his family (brother Frank (Chris Cooper), and sister-in-law Diane (Dianne Wiest)), and grows to appreciate the Montana countryside. But can Annie remain faithful to her husband, Robert (Sam Neill), and her cluttered New York lifestyle, or will the charms of Tom and Montana be too great to bear?
In the end, it doesn’t matter much. As a romance, The Horse Whisperer is terribly flawed. The problem rests on Kristen Scott Thomas’ shoulders. She does such a good job at portraying how stubborn and domineering Annie is, that her character comes off as mean and cold…two traits that aren’t conducive to passionate romance.
Luckily, there’s more to The Horse Whisperer, otherwise the film would be a complete waste. The film’s parallel rehabilitation story of Pilgrim and Grace works very well (especially in contrast to the romance). Redford works much better as a paternal than a romantic interest in this film. And Scarlet Johansson handles her difficult role excellently.
Then, of course, the film is extremely well photographed, as can be expected for an outdoor film in Montana. But the cinematography doesn’t end purely with the scenery. The film is shot in two differing aspect ratios (a confining one for the New York sequences, and then glorious widescreen for Montana.) The animal photography is very good as well, particularly over the opening and closing credits.
Although The Horse Whisperer might not be romantic, it is moving… and a good looking film to boot.