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Weekly Alibi A Truck Runs Over It

By Michael Henningsen

MAY 18, 1998:  Those expecting a touchy-feely human drama along the lines of the Robert Redford-directed A River Runs Through It, be warned. The Horse Whisperer (also directed and produced by Redford) indeed has its dramatic undertones and soft underbelly, but the most striking moments of the film are those scenes shared between human and horse. And some of those moments--particularly during the opening 20 minutes--are more than slightly disturbing. Parents will cringe; children will cry. Successfully endure the film's beginning, though, and you're likely to find yourself swept up in a beautiful story of healing and redemption.

Redford stars as Tom Booker, a Montana rancher of few words who is known in the equestrian world as a "horse whisperer," a rare individual with a unique spiritual connection to horses. Following a tragic accident that leaves her best friend dead, her horse Pilgrim terribly injured and her right leg partially amputated, 13-year-old Grace MacLean (Scarlett Johansson) reluctantly joins her mother, Annie (Kristin Scott Thomas) on a cross-country journey to find the horse whisperer. Johansson is quite remarkable as the embittered young Grace, whose only verbalizations during the long trip come in the form of "I don't know" and "I don't care." With traumatized horse in tow, Annie begs Booker to take a look at the badly injured animal. He agrees, and it's here that the film's several subplots begin to unfold.

Foremost among them is the transformation of Annie from presumptuous, high-powered New York magazine editor into a woman who suddenly realizes she's been missing something vital to her own happiness all along--a sense of home. Booker's family, including brother Frank (Chris Cooper), sister-in-law Diane (Dianne Wiest) and Frank's three young sons live in stark contrast to the MacLean's homogenous, East Coast existence.

As gradually as Pilgrim takes to Booker, so, too, does Grace. Through watching him work with the horse, Grace comes to trust Booker implicitly. She also comes to understand the healing process as it applies to herself, her horse and the strained relationships that have come to a head since her accident.

Redford is fantastic as the knowing, soft-spoken rancher who manages to share his simple wisdom with mother and daughter through the establishment of his own caring and respectful relationship with Pilgrim. Thereby, a bond also forms between Booker and Annie that results in an unnerving romance--perhaps the film's only awkward element.

The Horse Whisperer is a sprawling film that evolves gradually, interestingly at the same pace by which Booker ultimately brings Pilgrim full circle. Patient and passionate, the film offers a sense of family, self-awareness and a unique perspective on tragedy, forgiveness and the healing of body, mind and spirit that is rare among today's bevy of action and disaster movies. While not outwardly the "feel-good movie of the year," The Horse Whisperer is undoubtedly a feel-good movie for the ages.?

The Horse Whisperer

Directed by Robert Redford.

Screenplay by Eric Roth and Richard LaGravenese. Starring Robert Redford, Kristin Scott Thomas, Sam Neill, Dianne Wiest, Scarlett Johansson.

Opens Friday.

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