Making the Grades
The Horse Whisperer is a wandering tale about a man named Tom Booker (Robert Redford) on the wide open plains of Montana. Booker is able to tame the most cantankerous of horses, and this script offers him up a real tough one in Pilgrim, a horse belonging to young Grace MacLean (Scarlett Johansson). During a frightful ride both are severely injured resulting in Grace losing a leg and Pilgrim becoming unridable and fierce. (The accident scene, which happens near the beginning of the film, may be very traumatic for children.)
Annie (Kristin Scott Thomas), Grace's mother, becomes convinced the horse can be rehabilitated after reading a magazine article about Booker, but neither he nor Grace are interested in Annie's crazy idea. However, she's a woman who believes a horse can be lead to water and she'll wait until it starts to drink.
Booker's "secret" to making a horse happy involves alternating between cold hard stares, forceful gestures, and pats on the head. The problem is Annie, who is married, also finds these techniques appealing, and begins trotting after Booker. Unlike the novel, things don't progress too far between them, but Annie never resolves the problems with her husband either. Again, the most hopeless romances in Hollywood happen in marriage.
The aspect of the story dealing with Grace has some very positive outcomes. Through Booker's efforts, Grace challenges her fear of riding and begins recovering emotionally. Booker's young nephew Joe (Ty Hillman) is a hard working polite farm-boy, whose way of sayin' things just as they are also has a positive impact on Grace's progress.
I guess you can think of The Horse Whisperer as two movies for the price of one. This double-barreled shotgun approach is an amazing piece of marketing that targets horse-fevered girls both young and old. Yet the script winds these two plots together and switches gear about every fifteen minutes for close to three hours, and left me wishing they would have stuck to the young cast (both Hillman and Johansson are superb performers) and put the adults out to pasture.