Horse Whisperer [1998]

Although it's best viewed on a big theatrical screen to take full advantage of Robert Richardson's breathtaking widescreen cinematography, it seems likely that most people will see this classy romance in the comfort of their own homes. Adapted from the bestseller by Nicholas Evans and directed by Robert Redford, the film did respectable business at the box-office, but it was too sprawling and too soapy to be a bona fide hit. Redford stars as the title character, a Montana rancher named Tom Booker, who possesses the specialized talent of healing traumatized horses through careful and affectionate rehabilitation. He gets his most challenging case when he's sought out by a fast-lane New York magazine editor (Kristin Scott Thomas, in a role modeled after former New Yorker editor Tina Brown) whose daughter (Scarlett Johansson) was injured and traumatized by an accident that nearly killed her favorite horse. When mother, daughter, and horse arrive at Booker's ranch, the big-city editor falls in love with the serene rancher and faces the painful decision of whether to stay in Montana or return to her husband (Sam Neill) in New York. Some may find this to be much ado about nothing, and comparisons to The Bridges of Madison County are inevitable, but Redford's directorial approach offers the kind of graceful stature, tenderness, and intelligence required to elevate the simple story. The film takes all the time it needs to let its characters heal and make their important decisions, and that alone makes it a refreshing alternative to the frantic pace of most big-studio productions. --Jeff Shannon

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