Based on the bestselling novel by Nicholas Evans, The Horse Whisperer (adapted for the screen by Eric Roth and Richard LaGravenese) is Robert Redford’s first directorial outing since 1994’s Quiz Show and the first film in which Redford directs himself. Redford plays Tom Booker, a horse trainer, who according to legend "could see into the creature's soul and soothe the wounds he found there."
In the film’s wrenching and brilliant opening, fourteen-year-old Grace MacLean (Scarlett Johansson) wakes up early for an early morning horseback ride with her best friend. The shots of her peaceful saddling ritual are intercut with manic scenes of her mother, Annie (Kristin Scott Thomas), a high-strung, high-maintenance Manhattan magazine editor, on the job.
The peaceful ride through snow-blanketed woods is violently disrupted by a freak accident that kills Grace’s friend, shred’s Grace’s leg, and injures the horse, Pilgrim, beyond repair. Control freak Annie absolutely refuses to put Pilgrim down and this rocks Annie’s already shaky marriage to Robert (Sam Neill), her lawyer husband.
Against everyone’s better judgment, Annie sets off for Tom Booker’s ranch in Montana with her wounded daughter and the nearly dead Pilgrim in tow. While Booker practices his voodoo on Pilgrim, Grace, completely opposed to everything at first, discovers the wherewithal to heal herself. A budding romance, mostly unspoken and unconsummated, ensues between the east coast editor and the leathery cowboy.
Outside of the 2 hour and 44 minute running time, the biggest problem with the film is its schizophrenic nature–is it a coming-of-age story about a girl and her horse or the journey of rediscovery spawned by a midlife crisis?
Beautifully photographed by longtime Oliver Stone cinematographer Robert Richardson, The Horse Whisperer takes full advantage of the panoramic landscape of Montana. The star of the movie, however, is the soundtrack, both the score and the original songs by some of alternative country’s best musicians including Steve Earle, Iris Dement, Lucinda Williams and the legendary Flatlanders.