Friday, September 7, 2012


(May 1998, U.S.)

I did not grow up with the films of John Ford. I only heard about his style and technique for capturing the great American open landscapes when I got older and began an appreciation for classic films. For my generation (in my opinion), it was the selected films of Robert Redford as director that brought me in visual touch with some of the wonderful open country that America is filled with. Anyone who's seen A RIVER RUNS THROUGH IT (1992) or THE HORSE WHISPERER know what I'm talking about. There are cinematic visual moments in this film that just scream for the viewer to get out there and head to Montana!

If you haven't seen THE HORSE WHISPERER in some time, the first thing that may catch your attention is that Scarlett Johansson (yes, that sexy, inticing, delicious woman of today!) was once a young, unknown pre-teen. The second thing that may catch your attention is that the girl who was last seen in THE AVENGERS (2012) could really deliver a tear-jerking performance as young horse rider Grace who's left permanently amputated when she and her beloved horse, Pilgrim, are involved in a horribly shocking accident at the beginning of the film. We know her pain as a human being and we can also predict with a certain level of cliche and tradition that she will overcome her demons by the end of the film (she does!). No, this is really a story about a horse and the gentle man known as Tom Booker, a "horse whisperer" (played by Robert Redford) who possesses the almost magic skills to heal the horse with soul-reaching kindness and patience. Tom owns a family ranch deep in the Montana hills and agrees to help, but only if Grace also takes part in the healing process. As Pilgrim and Grace slowly overcome their trauma, Grace's mother Annie (played by Kristen Scott Thomas) and Tom begin to have predictable mutual romantic feelings for each other. However, they're both reluctant to act on these feelings because Annie's married and Tom had his heart broken before, when his wife left him because she belonged to the city and not the ranch.

I'm reminded much of the Harrison Ford film WITNESS (1985) not only because of its locale of an unspoiled American terrain, but also a tense-filled love scenario that is destined never to be. In my opinion, though, the love that's experienced between Tom and Annie is never fully convincing to me and only serves to round-out the story's apparent need for love interest. As I said before, for me this is a story about a horse and a man. It's an American story that probably could only have been tackled by a man like Redford, who's not only as solid American as they come, but a man who also truly loves the American landscape. Clint Eastwood, perhaps, is the only other star and director I could have envisioned handling this project.

While I can't claim to have loved every one of Redford's project as director (I've still never sat through all of THE MILAGRO BEAN FIELD WAR and THE LEGEND OF BAGGER VANCE did nothing for me), I can say that THE HORSE WHISPERER is one of his best in a long line of films that has included ORDINARY PEOPLE (1980), A RIVER RUNS THROUGH IT (1992) and QUIZ SHOW (1994).

Favorite line or dialogue:

Tom Booker: "There was a boy from the Blackfeet reservation, he used to do some work around here for a while. Sixteen, strong kid, good kid. He and I were really, really good friends. One day he went swimming and dove headfirst into the lake...and right into a rock. And it snapped his neck, paralyzed him. And after the accident I'd look in on him from time to time. But he wasn't there. It was like his mind, his spirit, whatever you want to call it, just disappeared. The only thing left was just anger. Just sort of as if the...the boy I once knew just went somewhere else."
Grace: "I know where he goes."
Tom: "I know you do. Don't you disappear. You do whatever you have to do to hold on."

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