Robert Redford's 1998 drama The Horse Whisperer is now available on Blu-ray. The film stars Redford (directing himself for the first time), Kristin Scott Thomas, Sam Neill, and Scarlett Johansson, and is based on the novel by Nicholas Evans. The story is quite engaging, dealing with the aftermath of a tragic accident, though it is a tad overlong, losing focus at some points. Still, The Horse Whisperer is beautifully shot and features fine performances from its leading actors.
Redford plays Tom Booker, an expert in training horses. He specializes in problem horses, or as he puts it, “Horses with people problems.” The film opens with a horrific accident which results in the serious injury of teenager Grace MacLean (Johansson) and her horse Pilgrim. Grace has lost part of her leg in the accident and is devastated over the loss of her friend Judith (Kate Bosworth), who was killed in the accident. Pilgrim sustained terrible injuries, and though he has recovered physically, his temperament has changed. He will not allow anyone near him, even Grace. Though Pilgrim's caretakers have suggested he be put down Grace's mom, Annie (Thomas), refuses.
Annie is a workaholic New York magazine editor who spends most of her time at the office, away from her daughter and husband, Robert (Neill). She’s frustrated by Grace's anger stemming from the accident, and worries that Grace is withdrawing from the family. Annie learns of Booker, the so-called “Horse Whisperer” (as a magazine profile dubbed him). She decides helping Pilgrim is the way to help Grace. She packs Pilgrim into a horse trailer, and her reluctant daughter into the car, and they set off for Montana, sans Robert. Booker is hesitant to help at first, but eventually gives in.
The film works best when it is focused on Grace. It's easy to see why Scarlet Johansson became a star, because she truly shines in this early role. Her realistic portrayal of a troubled teenager is the heart of the film. However, the storyline ends up revolving around Annie. She is dealing with choosing between her career and her family. She also develops a romance with Booker. It's hard to blame her, because in this film Booker is basically perfect. He is good looking, rugged, and smart. He is a cowboy who listens to classical music and always knows the right thing to say. I like Redford in the film, but the character is a bit one dimensional in that he can seemingly do no wrong.