The Horse Whisperer, writer/director/actor Robert Redford's postcard from big-sky country, has been preemptively maligned as Bridges Of Madison County, take two, but the low-key later-in-life-romance subplot is the least striking aspect of this haunting, frequently beautiful movie. Kristin Scott Thomas plays a New York magazine editor whose daughter loses a leg and a best friend in a horrible horseback-riding accident. Desperate for her daughter (Scarlett Johansson) to get on with her life, Thomas takes her and her spooked horse out to Montana to meet with Robert Redford, a so-called "horse whisperer" whose rapport with animals will hopefully heal both horse and daughter in one fell swoop. The film begins with a horrifying intensity, as Redford presents the collision of truck, horse, and rider in a bravura bit of frightening filmmaking. Once the film heads west, it becomes a gorgeously shot staring match between man and horse. Even though the horse soon becomes a pretense for a soft-light-soaked staring match between man and woman, The Horse Whisperer thankfully never fully leaves Marlboro Country for Harlequin country. This patient film doesn't offer any pat Hollywood answers, and the conclusion dangles some refreshing loose ends. With solid, stately acting, and landscapes that could convert atheists, The Horse Whisperer tugs heartstrings without seeming self-conscious.
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