Monday, September 08, 2014

The Horse Whisperer

Based on the novel by Nicholas Evans, The Horse Whisperer is the story of a New York magazine editor who asks a horse specialist to heal her daughter’s injured horse following a tragic accident that led to the loss of her daughter’s leg and the death of her daughter‘s friend. Directed and starring Robert Redford and screenplay by Richard LaGravenese and Eric Roth, the film is an exploration of a woman seeking the help of a man who can understand horses as she is also dealing with her own fragile relationship with her teenage daughter as Redford plays the role of Tom Booker. Also starring Kristin Scott Thomas, Scarlett Johansson, Sam Neill, Dianne Wiest, Cherry Jones, and Chris Cooper. The Horse Whisperer is a superbly rich film from Robert Redford.

The film revolves around a workaholic magazine editor from New York whose life crashes when her teenage daughter was in an accident that led to the death of a friend and her daughter losing her right leg while the horse itself is severely injured. In needing to help her daughter and her horse, Annie MacLean (Kristin Scott Thomas) travels from New York to Montana with her daughter Grace (Scarlett Johansson) and the injured horse Pilgrim where Annie seeks the help of Tom Booker who has a reputation for understanding horses as he is known as a horse whisperer. Though Booker is reluctant to help Annie and Grace out, he realized what they needed where Annie falls for him as she becomes torn between her love for Booker and her devotion to her family. Especially as Booker’s own family watches over Annie’s presence and how it affects Booker who had been through heartbreak before.

The film’s screenplay does have very grand structure that is very broad in the way it tells the story as the first act is about the accident that would have Grace lose her leg while Annie is determined to help her daughter despite their contentious relationship. Especially as Annie is known for being a workaholic who is dealing with a lawsuit as she discovers about Booker’s work through a magazine article in the hopes that she can help Grace and Pilgrim where the latter is severely hurt by the accident as Annie refuses to put him down. Annie’s desire to wanting to help both Grace and Pilgrim would have her drive all the way from New York to Montana where the second act is about Annie learning about Booker’s methods but also the quaint life he lives in with his brother Frank (Chris Cooper) and Frank’s wife Dianne (Dianne Wiest) who knows Tom very well as well as his past living in the city. During the course of the story where Annie tries to get to know Tom and his past, there is also Grace who is driven by grief and anger as she doesn’t like her mother while is having a hard time opening up to Tom about what happened to her as he would be very patient towards her in her recovery.

Robert Redford’s direction is quite vast for the way he presents much of the scenes set in Montana and the American Midwest where it has this very intoxicating feel as opposed to the more intimate world of the city where Annie and Grace live at with Annie’s husband Robert (Sam Neill). There is an intimacy to the film’s direction in the way Redford explores the family lives that Tom and Annie live in and the differences they have. There are these evocative images of horses that is featured throughout the film as it plays into a sense of innocence that Grace had while Booker is definitely aware of that connection Grace has with the horse Pilgrim. There is also a looseness in the direction in the way many of the scenes set at ranches and gatherings are happening along with some very unique compositions that occur in the way Grace would glance at something including one key moment where she tries to reach out to Pilgrim by feeding him with caution. While there are some moments that do get overdrawn such as its ending as well as some other moments between Tom and Annie, Redford still manages to keep things intact to play into a young girl trying to get back up. Overall, Redford crafts a touching yet majestic drama about a man helping a family in heal a wounded horse.

Cinematographer Robert Richardson does amazing work with the film’s cinematography with some very beautiful images of the film’s opening sequence set in the snow in upstate New York along with the vast colors and open fields of the scenes set in Montana. Editors Hank Corwin, Freeman A. Davies, and Tom Rolf do brilliant work with the editing in the way Grace‘s accident happens as well as some of the montages on the road and some of the effective moments in the film‘s dramatic scenes. Production designer Jon Hutman, with art director W. Steven Graham and set decorators Gretchen Rau and Hilton Rosemarin, does excellent work with the look of the Booker ranch and their houses along with the more posh look of Annie‘s New York City apartment.

Costume designer Judy L. Ruskin does terrific work with the costumes as it‘s mostly casual with the exception of the rugged cowboy clothes that Tom Booker and his brother Frank wears along with Frank‘s sons. Sound editors Frank E. Eulner and Richard Hymns, along with sound designer Gary Rydstrom, do fantastic work with the sound to create some unique sound work in the accident sequence along with chilling scenes of Pilgrim being wounded. The film’s music by Thomas Newman and Gwil Owen is wonderful with Newman providing some bombastic orchestral flourishes for some of the dramatic moments with Owen bringing in a more folk, country sound with guitars while music supervisor John Bissell brings in a mix of country, classical, and alternative music to play into the different worlds of the characters.

The casting by Ellen Chenoweth and Gretchen Rennell is incredible as it features some notable small roles from Jessalyn Gilsig as Annie’s assistant in New York, Jeanette Nolan as Tom and Frank’s mother, Ty Hillman as Frank’s eldest son Joe, Austin and Dustin Schwartz as Joe’s younger twin brothers, Cherry Jones as horse wrangler who reluctantly tells Annie that Pilgrim should be put down, and Kate Bosworth as Grace’s friend Judith who would die in the tragic accident. Chris Cooper is terrific as Tom’s brother Frank who aids him in helping Pilgrim out while being this low-key observer about everything that goes on. Dianne Wiest is fantastic as Frank’s brother Dianne who really cares for Tom as she also observes Annie and her intentions while being the woman that Annie can talk to as it proves that Dianne has desires to travel the world. Sam Neill is superb as Annie’s husband Robert who is often worried about Grace as he tries to be there while he also deals with Annie’s time in Montana where his arrival would cause problems for Annie.

Scarlett Johansson is phenomenal as Grace MacLean as this teenage girl who loses part of her right leg in a tragic accident as she is driven by grief and anguish as it’s a performance that is filled with a lot of depth and sadness as it’s one of Johansson’s finest performances. Kristin Scott Thomas is excellent as Annie MacLean as a woman who is desperate to help her daughter and horse while dealing with her own faults as a woman as she tries to deal with her feelings for Tom as well as the cracks in her family. Finally, there’s Robert Redford in an amazing performance as Tom Booker as this very reserved man who can help a horse get back on its feet while trying to not live a complicated life as he falls for Annie where he falls into a trap that could ruin him.

The Horse Whisperer is a dazzling film from Robert Redford that features superb performances from Redford and Kristin Scott Thomas plus a breakout performance from a young Scarlett Johansson. While it’s not a perfect film, it is still a fascinating film that explores a man trying to help horses through unconventional means as well as repairing the fragile bond between a horse and a young girl. In the end, The Horse Whisperer is a fantastic film from Robert Redford.

Robert Redford Films: Ordinary People - (The Milagro Beanfield War) - (A River Runs Through It) - (Quiz Show) - (The Legend of Bagger Vance) - (Lions for Lambs) - (The Conspirator) - (The Company You Keep)

© thevoid99 2014

1 comment:

Alex Withrow said...

I agree, while not a perfect film, this one deserves a wider audience. There's an earnestness to it that I've always appreciated.