The Horse Whisperer (1998)

<strong class="MovieTitle">The Horse Whisperer</strong> (1998)

(In French, On TV, October 2018) There isn’t much of a step between earnestness and ridiculousness, and I suspect that The Horse Whisperer can fall in either depending on how susceptible you are to the film’s manipulation. There is a way to state the plot as a Lifetime movie (Following a terrible accident, a woman goes to a ranch in Montana to heal her daughter) and then as a Lifetime movie on steroids (Following a terrible accident, a woman goes to a ranch in Montana where an impossibly perfect guy heals her horse, brinks back her amputated daughter from the brink of suicide, and makes her realize the true meaning of passion even though she doesn’t really like the guy she’s been married to for nearly twenty years). Both are true, even though my own sympathies clearly lies with the most sarcastic version. But then again, I’m clearly not part of the film’s target audiences. It does help that The Horse Whisperer is often very nicely directed by Robert Redford—the cinematography is terrific whenever it can use Montana as a backdrop, although it clearly suffers whenever it’s time to present horrific events: Redford (or his editor) relies far too much on incomprehensible quick-cutting that gives an impression of what’s going on rather than what is happening. Whenever The Horse Whisperer can take a breath (and at its nearly-three-hour duration, it often does), it can take advantage of lush backdrops. It also helps to have actors such as Redford in the title role, and Kristen Scott Thomas as the heroine: while the characters are ridiculously over-written as wish-fulfillment superheroes on the page (he’s a wise cowboy with an urban past who knows how to tame horses, unshackle teenagers and romance women; she’s a workaholic New Yorker magazine editor with an upper-class lifestyle but personal issues), their portrayal on-screen works significantly better. This being said with a small dose of hard-won humility, I feel increasingly uncomfortable to deride other people’s wish-fulfill fantasies—everybody needs a few, and it’s not as if white-middle-class-geek wish fulfillment isn’t an overbearing feature of today’ cinema landscape. If The Horse Whisperer works for some, then let it work. If viewers can find some measure of inner peace and entertainment in what sometimes felt like an excruciating test of endurance to me, then I should just shut up and not spoil anyone’s squee. The recent nerdification of American cinema is not always a good thing, and we definitely need more Horse Whisperers twenty years after its release.

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