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IN SHORT: grade A
At two hours forty four minutes, you'd think we'd just passed Thanksgiving and started the Oscar race but no, it's still May. Thankfully, Robert Redford's adaptation of Nicholas Evans' The Horse Whisperer is as beautiful to look at as it is easy to sit through.
Everybody else is going to talk about the romance between Robert Redford and Kristin Scott Thomas, but Cranky is going to focus a little younger down. The Horse Whisperer is set in motion by a brutal truck-meets-horse-and-girl-loses-her-leg traffic accident. Those of you who have been reading Cranky for any length of time know that this is the kind of stuff that I nail every time, 'cuz every time a writer uses a traffic accident to make a plot point, (he) gets the reality of what comes next wrong, every time.
Not this time. When the 13 year old Grace (Scarlett Johansson) opens up her personal emotional dam with the line "who's ever gonna want me this way?" you would've needed a roll of Bounty to mop Cranky up off the floor. Cranky, like thousands of other accident victims, shares the copyright on that line. The Horse Whisperer nails the pain on the noggin. Just like the truck that nailed Cranky a decade ago.
OK, on to the movie....
Grace loses both her best friend and a hunk of leg to the accident, which is filmed by director Redford in a style guaranteed to suck the air out of your lungs. The attitude most teens will toss at you is thus amplified tenfold as Grace can't put into words the torment tearing her innards up emotionally. The script makes a passing nod to a shrink who is working with the girl, and physical therapy is mentioned but not shown. The emphasis is on Pilgrim, the horse Grace was riding at the time of the accident. Metaphorically, in some sort of 90s newagespeak kind of way, the healing of the horse, traumatized by its one on one with the truck radiator and windshield, serves as metaphor for the pent up emotional and psychological control freak problems of mom and dad and daughter.
The outlet is Tom Booker (Redford) a "horse whisperer," which I'll describe as a trainer who has greater than average success calming traumatized horses. In this story, Booker has not only the horse to retrain, he has its rider and her mom hanging on as well. Annie MacLen (Thomas) is a high powered New York magazine editor whose marriage is on the rocks and whose ego and need for control is such that she packs up her kid and the horse, and shleps 'em out to Montana when the whisperer won't come to New York. Annie tries to maintain her New York life in Montana, but lots of gorgeous, wordless scenes of scenery and country life eventually break her down.
Read that last sentence carefully. It is in scenes like those described that extra-long flicks can roll over and die. The Horse Whisperer doesn't, for two reasons. First, Montana is absolutely gorgeous to look at. Second, the score, by Thomas Newman, is a perfect compliment to the visuals.
Oh yeah, Robert Redford wears a cowboy hat. You ladies know you love that.
Of note in the cast are Sam Neill, as Annie's passive (but still very much in love) husband, and Dianne Wiest as Tom's sister in law, as much the opposite of Annie as you can get. A lot of the charm in The Horse Whisperer is that it's a flip on the old "country mouse in the city" fable. As romance flicks go, I couldn't tell you. Cranky's notoriously unromantic, and this flick offered many other things to keep him so. Extra bucks in the rating for a film that can work on many different levels for both men and women.
And we'll forget that I hate movies that make me cry...
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price for The Horse Whisperer, he would have paid . . .
The Horse Whisperer is the second flick of 1998 to make Cranky's "Best of" list. Redford did a great job, both in front of and behind the camera.
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