When performances and photography are this good, there's no need to poke holes in the story.


A Illusion review by Joan Ellis.

"The Horse Whisperer" is Robert Redford's plea to Americans to look carefully at what they have and to protect it. Redford is a man of the West who chose years ago to use his considerable influence to help spotlight our fragile ecosystems and the heritage of the open country he loves. The physical beauty of the movie sinks into the soul.

Annie MacLean (Kristin Scott Thomas) is a crisply determined New York magazine editor, a powerhouse player who runs her life from her cell phone. She is married to gentle, thoughtful Robert (Sam Neill), who works his life around hers. On a snowy morning, their daughter Grace (Scarlett Johansson) meets her friend Judith (Catherine Bosworth) for a sunrise ride through the countryside that surrounds New York City in scattered patches of woodland beauty. Ice glistens on branches; the snow has turned to a shining crust.

As the young riders clamber up a steep hill, their horses slip and begin a hideous slide down the ice, twisting and turning to recover their footing. Failing, they slide into the path of an oncoming truck. Judith and her horse are killed; Grace's leg must be amputated; her horse, Pilgrim, is wickedly injured and terrorized.

It is one of those moments that changes forever the lives of everyone involved. Annie, unable to shed her brittle exterior, attaches IVs, changes compresses, makes arrangements, tries to fix what can't be fixed. She refuses to have Pilgrim put down: "He's Grace's horse." Taking to the Internet to find help for Pilgrim, she finds Tom Booker (Mr. Redford), the horse whisperer, who abruptly rejects her telephoned entreaties to treat the traumatized horse.

Annie hitches Pilgrim's trailer to her car and heads for Montana with Grace sunk in bitterness beside her. Following Annie from the air, director Redford's cameras give us an astonishing overview of the majesty and scale of America's midsection. As the story shifts from New York to the vast country that silences frenzy, Annie's essential goodness matches that of her new hosts--Tom Booker, his brother (Chris Cooper), and his sister-in-law, played by the marvelous Dianne Wiest.

Booker's intuitive understanding of Grace and Pilgrim is as absorbing as Annie's gradual acceptance of a different way of life is touching. Carrying a lifetime's accumulation of emotion, she finally understands that "the more I try to fix things, the more they fall apart." The love story of Tom and Annie is breathtaking in its adultness. They remind us that the genuinely good people of this world carry the depth of their experience with them wherever they go.

Given the job of creating these good people, the cast is flawless. Sam Neill is heartbreaking in one deeply moving scene. Kristin Scott Thomas is a revelation as she strips away Annie's protective layers, and Robert Redford doesn't allow cliche to tarnish his portrait of Tom Booker. When performances and photography are this good, there's no need to poke holes in the story. Just jump into the illusion.

Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Word Count : 500
Studio : Touchstone Pictures
Rating : PG-13
Running Time: 2h48m

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