After a young girl (Scarlett Johansson) suffers a terrible riding accident, her mother (Kristen Scott Thomas) seeks the help of a “horse whisperer” (Robert Redford). Together, they help girl and horse overcome their trauma, but find their relationship is getting too personal.
Directed by: Robert Redford
Robert Redford may a Hollywood acting legend, but he is still underrated as a director. His 1998 gem is an old-fashioned love story set against the backdrop of Montana’s “Big Sky.” It tells the story of a cowboy (Redford) with a special connection to horses, and his growing relationship with a mother and daughter from New York who seek out his help.
Most of the talk about The Horse Whisperer revolves around the cinematography, which is exceptional, but there are several storylines in the film that make this a very good character drama. We have a young girl named Grace (Johansson) learning how to love horse riding again after a horrible accident. Seeing Little Scarlett Johansson before she became an Avenger is fun to watch, and she’s not a bad little actress. We even get a Little Kate Bosworth for a few scenes as Johansson’s friend.
The Johansson storyline takes a back seat, however, once the film moves to Montana. Then, we see the spark of a love story between Robert Redford’s Tom Booker and Annie, Grace’s mother, played by Kristen Scott Thomas. Annie is cold and calculating, a Manhattan executive with misplaced priorities. Despite being married (Jurassic Park’s Sam Neill has a small role as the husband), Annie finds a connection with Booker, and the two struggle to justify their forbidden feelings.
The supporting cast is excellent, with Chris Cooper and Diane Weist as members of Redford’s family, who give the film some emotional grounding and help drive home the point that big-city life isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
Beautiful, and at times majestic, The Horse Whisperer is an understated triumph that should be seen. It is a long film (nearly three hours), but it is well worth it.
VIDEO AND AUDIO
For a 15 year old film, the video transfer is fantastic. It is absolutely beautiful, giving the superior cinematography a rightful presentation. There are some minor hints of film grain, but it is not a major distraction. The whites and blacks in the early winter scenes are perfectly contrast, and the softer earth tones of the Montana ranch scenes are near perfect. The audio is a flawless 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix, giving the voices proper lead without being too dominating over the music.
Most of the extras are short promotional featurettes, brought over from a previous DVD release. A production featurette is only a few minutes long, and provides a few behind-the-scenes looks. A Robert Redford featurette includes a short discussion with the director about his approach to the film.
The Buck Brannaman featurette is by far the most interesting, and includes a discussion with the real-life “horse whisperer” Redford based his character on. A music video, a theatrical trailer and a teaser trailer are also included. None of the extras are in high-definition.
THE BOTTOM LINE: BUY IT OR REDBOX IT?
Ratings (1-10 scale)
Overall Grade: 8.75
The Horse Whisperer is an outstanding drama wrapped in a Western cover. With outstanding performances from all involved, it holds up to multiple viewings. I wish there had been more substantial extras, but the outstanding video transfer makes the film itself the main attraction. We highly recommend a “BUY” for this modern classic.
Release date: July 3, 2012
Running time: 169 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
Audio: English 5.1 DTS-HD MA, French 5.1 Dolby Digital, Spanish 2.0 Dolby Digital
Subtitles: English for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, French, Spanish
Special Features: “Making Of” featurette, Robert Reford featurette, Buck Brannaman featurette, music video