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THE HORSE WHISPERER

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Robert Redford, Kirsten Scott Thomas, Sam Neill, Scarlett Johansson
Director:  Robert Redford
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1
Video:  Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio:  Touchstone
Features:  Theatrical Trailer
Length:  169 Minutes
Release Date:  November 10, 1998

Film ***

The Horse Whisperer is one of those movies that seems to fall square in the middle.  It's good, but not great.  It's competent, but not spectacular.  's pretty, but not gorgeous.  It's well acted, but not passionate.

A young girl, Grace (Johansson), gets in a serious accident while horse riding.  Her best friend dies. She is left a partial amputee.  The horse is in hideous shape, and becomes wild and unapproachable.

Her mother, Annie (Scott Thomas), a no nonsense, hard edged magazine editor, decides that healing the horse might be the best way to bring Grace out her self pity and depression.  So the wounded, pained animal which should probably be put out of its misery, is loaded into a truck, and the three head to Montana.  Reason?  An old cowboy, Tom Booker (Redford) is a horse whisperer, and may be able to heal the animal.

What is a whisperer, you ask?  Well, all I've learned about them is that they do exist in real life, and that's about it.  The movie never really makes it clear what it is Booker does with these creatures.  All we ever see is him staring into the horse's eyes for long periods of time.  Occasionally he approaches, sometimes he lets the horse just run free.

It's hard to say whether or not all of this really has a point.  Can this cowboy heal the horse, and somehow heal Grace and Annie and their problems as well?  Seems like a tall order, although the scenes were he has Grace help with the horse are nicely done, and the blossoming romance between he and Annie is handled well, for such a predictable scenario.

Redford's real talent as a director is that he understands the humanity in his characters, and he knows how to get his actors to bring them out.  If you think about it, all of these people would look fairly flat on paper.  But there is a realness to each one than transcends the little corner of the movie that they occupy.  It's subtle, but warmly done, and Redford is able to draw you into caring about them, rather than manipulate you to do so.

Video **

This non anamorphic widescreen transfer is hit and miss. The daylight outdoor scenes look terrific, but in the lower lit scenes, you can see some grain and compression, along with less clarity of image and color. It should have been a lot better.

Audio ***

The 5.1 soundtrack is very good, particularly during the accident scene near the beginning, which makes excellent use of the discreet rear channels.  Throughout the film, dialogue is very clear, and the musical orchestration is well balanced and with good dynamic range.

Features *

Only a trailer.

Summary:

When this film first came out, some were shouting "Oscar!".  By the time the award nominations came about, it was completely forgotten.  In a sense, that's indicative of the kind of film it is.  It's a well made, pleasant little drama that will entertain you for a few hours, and then slip quietly back out of your mind when it's all over.