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A teenage girl riding a horse is hit by a truck. To help heal her troubled/injured daughter, and horse, the mother takes them to Montana to recuperate at the ranch of a 'horse whisperer', a horse healer of mystical talents. The mother proceeds to fall in love with him, as well. Written by
Ordinary People. A River Runs Through It. Quiz Show. With this track record, Robert Redford has proven himself not only to be one of the great modern American movie-makers, but one of the only actors to ever make a smooth -- not to mention impressive -- transition to the director's chair. And considering his success, one might worry that he'd make a misstep somewhere and back a sub par picture. Well, skeptics beware, because with The Horse Whisperer, Redford has secured his spot as an A-list director, and as a man who knows how to please his audience. Adapted from Nick Evan's best-selling novel, The Horse Whisperer depicts a New York family that is struck by tragedy when their daughter is involved in a horrific accident while riding her horse in the woods with a friend. Her friend is killed, and she is required to have her leg amputated; as for the horse, he is so severely traumatized that putting him down appears to be the only option. But the mother (Kristin Scott Thomas) refuses to watch another part of her life fall apart before her eyes, and demands that the horse be kept alive. She examines every source on horse healing, and learns of a strange treatment known as horse whispering, which deals with the spiritual healing of the animal. By this point, you should be able to figure out where the plot goes: she contacts the "horse whisperer," drags the horse (and her daughter) to a ranch in Montana, and through the experience they all find emotional healing. And while this might seem like a recipe destined for sappy Lifetime melodrama, Redford somehow makes it work. Not because the story is particularly unique, but simply because his characters actually feel real to us -- which is where so many other similar movies have failed. Thomas is superb as the controlling (yet confused) mother; instead of being portrayed as some manipulative matriarch, we actually sympathize with her situation. In fact, we sympathize with everyone's situation. Thomas eventually falls in love with the horse whisperer himself (played by Redford), and when she ultimately has to choose between him and her husband (played by Sam Neill), the dilemma is not boiled down to mere preference. Neill is a loving, caring father, and in the most moving scene of the picture, he declares his love for his wife yet allows her -- and even encourages her -- to follow her own heart. As the daughter, new-comer Scarlett Johannson gives a terrific performance, and with a supporting cast that includes Chris Cooper and Dianne Wiest, the ensemble is flawless. The film is deliberately paced, yet it never drags; instead, it uses its length (which runs close to three hours) to its own advantage, conveying the rare grace and tenderness that we saw in A River Runs Through It and Ordinary People. Each and every character is filled with an emotional depth rarely seen in mainstream romance epics, and the scenes that involve the horse being healed manage to be both compelling and powerful in spite of their contrived nature (which is really an accurate description of the entire picture). And even though it might not hit every emotional chord it tries to strike, The Horse Whisperer does so much right that it puts all the other wanna-be epics to shame. Here's to a future classic.
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