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The Horse Whisperer(1998)
The mother of a severely traumatized daughter enlists the aid of a unique horse trainer to help the girl's equally injured horse.
For more about The Horse Whisperer and the The Horse Whisperer Blu-ray release, see the The Horse Whisperer Blu-ray Review published by Brian Orndorf on September 13, 2012 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.5 out of 5.
Starring: Robert Redford, Kristin Scott Thomas, Sam Neill, Scarlett Johansson, Dianne Wiest, Chris Cooper
Director: Robert Redford
» See full cast & crew
The Horse Whisperer Blu-ray Review
The glowing cowboy.
Reviewed by Brian Orndorf, September 13, 2012
Robert Redford actively pursued the rights to Nicholas Evans's 1995 novel, "The Horse Whisperer," clearly finding an ideal fit for his own sensibilities when it comes to the exploration of rural life on film. The match of material to performer couldn't be more appropriate, finding the author's sudsy imagination and depth of detail gracefully transferred to the big screen by the iconic star, resulting in a 1998 hit that generously played up the beauty of the Midwest, the mystery of animal rehabilitation, and the lure of Redford's autumnal good looks. "The Horse Whisperer" assumes a sturdy literary stance as it strolls through a tale of strife and kindly seduction, taking nearly three hours to make sure the viewer understands every inch of cowboy therapy and romantic inclination. It's a gorgeous picture, yet oddly incomplete, with much of the effort either studying details obsessively or burning through subplots at light speed. While Redford has managed to transfer a heightened version of the Montana experience to the screen, "The Horse Whisperer" is strangely unsatisfying in the end, spending too much time on the routine of analysis and the nuance of observation, and not enough time on the cold facts of the plot, with its withered marriages, vocational strife, and complicated backstories of trauma.
Grace MacLean (Scarlett Johansson) is young teen in love with her horse, Pilgrim. When tragedy strikes one wintry morning, Grace is left to face the death of her best friend, the loss of her left leg, and Pilgrim's physical and psychological fracture. Grace's mother, Annie (Kristin Scott Thomas), is a high-strung New York City magazine editor unable to process the enormity of the situation, lashing out at husband Robert (Sam Neill) when his paternal instincts look to comfort his daughter, not challenge her to face life again so soon after her catastrophe. Hoping to rehabilitate Pilgrim in an effort to connect to Grace, Annie reaches out to Tom Booker (Robert Redford), a "horse whisperer" who lives on a cattle ranch in Montana with his extended family (including Chris Cooper and Dianne Wiest). Driving Grace and Pilgrim out to meet Booker, Annie is amazed to discover the majesty and expanse of the land and the patience of the therapist, who takes in the trio for an extended amount of time, working with the horse every day. As Annie settles into country life, she takes a shine to Booker's warmth and knowledge, gradually falling in love with the man, a deep feeling shared by the cowboy, who's still wounded from a previous relationship. For Grace, time in Montana unclenches her fists, using Booker's wisdom to help realign her life and face Pilgrim again, healing along with her horse.
The true stars of "The Horse Whisperer" are the sumptuous Montana locations employed by Redford to transport the audience and the characters into an alien world of natural beauty and stillness, supporting the therapeutic slant of the material with countless images of rural life at its most idyllic. Cinematography by Robert Richardson is painterly and precise, looking to pull out an overwhelming majesty to the setting, with its massive skies and deep prairies, creating a sense of serenity in the midst of a turbulent plot that involves death, disfigurement, and designs of adultery. Redford even goes the extra step to reinforce the soulful transformation from city to Shangri-la, toying with aspect ratios in the opening of the feature to underline the breath of life awaiting Grace and Annie once they motor out of the city. "The Horse Whisperer" is a feast for the eyes, a special pleasure for admirers of the western genre, finding Redford meticulous with vistas and colors. Perhaps this does a disservice to the complexity of life in the state of Montana, yet such concerns rarely matter when facing a brilliantly composed widescreen image of such powerful naturalistic wonder, it seems sinful to involve humans in the story at all.
"The Horse Whisperer" is a melodrama, and one that convinces for about half of its enormous run time. The picture is most secure building the story of Grace and Annie, a troubled mother-daughter pairing facing an unimaginable crisis of limb loss and total psychological breakdown, resulting in friction between the emotionally detached parent and her suffering child. Nicely performed by Johansson and Thomas, the prickly dynamic is clearly defined and dramatically rich, observing strangers learning to communicate again through Booker's time with Pilgrim. The story seems most purposeful studying horse therapy (often displayed in real time), the discomfort of communication, and the liberation of trust, soaking in the surroundings with a heaping helping of countrified life that helps to bring the pair out of their shells, finding a home on the ranch that provides Grace with confidence and Annie a potential boyfriend in Booker.
The romantic side of the picture is less convincing, though, from what I understand, the subplot is far less severe than what was originally found in Evans's book. Nevertheless, a lack of chemistry between Thomas and Redford dilutes the feature's concentration on extended gazes and light touching, laboring through a love story that never blossoms into an authentic crisis of the heart. Actually, Annie comes across quite cruel, openly abandoning her kind husband to roll in the hay with a cultured Yoda-style cowboy who has wisdom to spare for those who seek his dewy company. By the end of the movie, I felt bad for Grace and Robert, not entranced by Annie and Booker's ill-timed culmination of flirtation. Redford films the burgeoning romance reliably, yet it's all so disappointingly bloodless, in need of sensual shock therapy to justify the glacial pace employed to bring it to life.
The Horse Whisperer Blu-ray, Video Quality
"The Horse Whisperer" is a difficult film to assess on BD, with the AVC encoded image presentation carrying a specific look to the film that takes some time to adjust to. First, there's a question of aspect ratio intent, with the opening of the picture (up to the 33:20 mark) simulating a 1.85:1 image with the use of pillarboxing, turning over to 2.33:1 when Annie and grace hit the road to Montana. The transition is handled smoothly. Less convincing is the balance between sharp and soft cinematography, which carries to such an extreme, it calls into question Redford's intent. The disc handles the softness with dignity, though detail is purposely washed away with a golden haze, leaving Booker on the angelic side, wiping away age particulars. It's distracting, but the erratic look of the movie appears connected to the source, not the disc. Skintones are on the troubling side, pushing a little too red at times. Shadow detail is comfortable but rarely remarkable, with a few stable encounters providing muddy blacks and limited distances. Colors are strong and stable, especially when the effort hits the open range, supplying a rich feel of natural hues, from rolling green grasslands to amber skies, properly flexing some HD muscle.
The Horse Whisperer Blu-ray, Audio Quality
The 5.1 DTS-HD MA sound mix is more stable than exploratory, keeping in line with the feature's modest intent. Dialogue exchanges are crisp and full, carried frontally with confidence. Hushed emotional beats are cleanly defined, along with a sense of life in group encounters, with nothing muffled or distorted. Scoring carries a welcome force, spotlighting lifting orchestrations that often feel out an immersive listening experience, acting as dramatic lungs for the production, supported by a fresh recording. Atmospherics are comfortable, offering the surrounds wind and rain to manage, though there's no real directional activity to rile up the track. Low-end is modest, kicking up with panicky horses and the initial accident sequence of the movie.
The Horse Whisperer Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
The Horse Whisperer Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
"The Horse Whisperer" is a gentle movie, reflecting Redford's filmmaking appetites and his nervousness around such popular material, stepping carefully to avoid offending anyone. The length is troubling, but the feature maintains a spiritual atmosphere and decent hold on personal problems, keeping the long journey to the cure compelling, with enough flashes of Heaven on Earth to bewitch even the most disengaged viewer.
The Horse Whisperer Blu-ray, News and Updates
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