The Horse Whisperer

Director: Robert Redford
Year Released: 1998
Rating: 1.0

Robert Redford has this way of making himself always look dignified and austere even when the picture around him slowly falls to pieces due to a lack of plausibility or originality. "The Horse Whisperer," a pathetically overlong (by over one hour ... that’s a good deal of celluloid) vanity (?) project by Redford, is about as illogical as you can get in a semi-mainstream picture (how novelist Nicholas Evans ever made this a bestseller is beyond me). A young teenager girl, while riding her horse, Pilgrim, along with her blossoming girlfriend through wonderfully captured snowy pastures (courtesy of camera color-scheme maverick and Oliver Stone sidekick Robert Richardson), gets in a terrible horsey/trucking accident (it's filmed the way a Stone film is and just as hard to make out what is going on), her girlfriend dies (which no one seems to care much about) and she loses her leg (it's crushed by one of the horses). Now deformed she has trouble re-adjusting to life, and her mother (Kristen Scott Thomas), a glitzy NY magazine editor (currently doing an issue on Damien Hirst – that’s the second Hirst reference in as many films [the first: "The Cell"]) – representing, naturally, East Coast snobbery and capitalism – takes the horse and her bitter, depressed daughter (in one scene she says she wants to be "put down" like the horse, evoking much laughter by me) to Redford out there in the pastel-colored backwoods of Montana, where he lives like Sitting Bull among the flowing wheat and ominous clouds (though there's no voice-over narration, whew) ... to heal the horse. I see. It is here that they have their horse’s soul mended and tamed (?) by land spirit Redford, who also, despite having a degree in horse counseling, also has a doctorate in clinical psychology, and acts as a therapist for both Thomas and the daughter (who bicker incessantly in scenes where the daughter goes from angry to weepy in a matter of seconds). The anti-urban slant feels worn out, and Redford's insistence on the purity of the West versus the impurity of the East is trite; the film’s "mystical" angle is also suspect. Dianne Wiest and Chris Cooper are fine in their small roles, but the daughter is trying way to hard. At the end, the film's cataclysmic message (don't fight life or just lay down or whatever Bob thinks it means) thuds and thuds hard, especially after we've sat through three hours of idiotic nonsense that would have been a much more accomplished picture had the horse trainer in the beginning done the smart thing and cut the damn thing's head off. Luco Brazi, we need you. Note: Kristen Scott Thomas is the only female in Hollywood I've seen who, with every picture, tries to look more and more like a gaunt teenage boy. Keep up the good work.