The Horse Whisperer (1998)

D: Robert Redford
S: Robert Redford, Kristin Scott Thomas

Beautiful and sensitive but fundamentally silly romantic drama from the bestseller by Nicholas Evans. Following an horrific riding accident, controlling magazine editor Kristin Scott Thomas enlists the aid of rancher Robert Redford to restore the spirit of both her troubled daughter and their magnificent horse. Serving as a metaphor for spiritual healing, the recovery of the animal is paralleled with the development of the characters.

As with most Redford films, this meticulously crafted and visually marvellous yarn demonstrates a deep concern with human emotion and a keen awareness of the importance of environment in their well being. But there is something fundamentally romantic (in the bad sense) in the depiction of the ranchers of Montana as fonts of enduring and eternal wisdom, dispensing truth and down-home remedies for all problems at the drop of a hat (or the wearing of one). It is the dreamlike flip side of paranoia thrillers such as Breakdown, where beyond the boundaries of the big city lies a realm of fantasy and wonder. Here amid the splendours of the countryside, boy meets girl and follows the familiar path to romantic entanglement, with occasional nods to modern-life complications such as husbands and careers.

To be fair, the film never pretends to be anything other than an emotional odyssey, and it is designed to work on the heart-strings and tear-ducts. How well it succeeds may depend on your predisposition to this type of thing, though Redford works hard to ensure the characters are at least believable within the frames of reference of the story. It is beautifully shot and there are some good individual scenes such as the accident itself which highlight his directorial skills. That these may not have been employed to quite such pointed effect here as in Ordinary People and Quiz Show is probably forgivable, given that what he attempts, he succeeds with well enough. But it is not a film for everyone and might well result in certain male viewers being savagely beaten about the head by enraged female companions whose appreciation of the spectacle has been ruined by the former's occasional outbursts of hysterical laughter.

Review by Harvey O'Brien copyright 1998.