Picks and Pans Review: The Horse Whisperer

updated 05/25/1998 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 05/25/1998 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Robert Redford, Kristin Scott Thomas, Scarlett Johansson, Sam Neill

Feature attraction

There is much to like in The Horse Whisperer, a sensitive romantic drama produced, directed by and starring Redford. Just as 1995's The Bridges of Madison County, another heartland romance about middle-aged protagonists, was far superior to the gooey novel upon which it was based, so this film version of Whisperer is smarter, subtler and more sexually restrained (just kissing and a heated slow dance) than its sappy bestselling source material by author Nicholas Evans. But—and it's a big but—Whisperer may be one of those movies easier to appreciate in hindsight. That's because one's hindquarters get mighty restive sitting through the film's 2-hour, 48-minute running time. Call me a city girl, but aren't a few of those endless, lingering, loving close-ups of horses and Montana hills cuttable?

The movie starts off well, setting its story in motion with economy and precision. A teenage girl (Johansson) and her horse are horribly injured in an accident. Her workaholic mom (Scott Thomas), a hotshot Manhattan editor who's a total control freak, intuits that her kid's recovery may be linked to that of the horse. She transports both out to Montana to seek the help of a horse whisperer (Redford), a fellow known for his gentle way with troubled horses. In Montana's wide open spaces—and this is where the film slows down—injuries both physical and emotional begin to heal, and love blooms between the uptight, married editor and the laconic, grounded cowboy.

There are fine, thoughtful performances here by Redford, Scott Thomas and especially Johansson. And Montana couldn't ask for a better ad campaign to promote tourism. (PG-13)

Bottom Line: Honorable effort and beautiful to look at, but a self-indulgently slow trot at times

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