Robert Redford’s The Horse Whisperer is a beautiful looking and emotionally powerful film. It features a wonderful cast acting a very involving and moving story of loss and rebirth with tremendous power and élan. The direction by Redford is assured (it’s the first time in his career that he directed himself), and he doesn’t favor himself over the other players. And yet, with all those superlatives, the film may tax viewers with its unreasonably lengthy 169-minute running time. While Redford admirably takes his time in telling a complex story involving multiple characters, he does indulge in scenes that either are drawn out past the point of their effectiveness or are not necessary at all.
The Horse Whisperer (Blu-ray)
Directed by Robert Redford
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 1080p AVC codec
Running Time: 169 minutes
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English; Dolby Digital 5.1 French, 2.0 Spanish
Subtitles: SDH, French, Spanish
MSRP: $ 20.00
Release Date: July 3, 2012
Review Date: July 8, 2012
The story of teenage Grace MacLean’s equestrian accident and the revitalization of Grace, her mother, and their prize horse’s lives could have made a tremendous two hour movie. Even with a troubled marriage (which doesn’t get nearly enough development even with the extensive time at hand) and some peripheral characters of interest, two hours should have been a gracious amount of time in which to tell this story. Redford’s first cut of the film came to over four hours, and he’s winnowed the running time down to almost three, but it’s still overkill. The story and its characters aren’t so interesting (or active) enough to be stretched to such a herculean length. It’s too much of a good thing (as family dinners, a brief history of horses, a cattle roundup, and a local dance all tend to extend the running time).
Robert Redford plays the title character, a cowboy with a kind of psychic gentleness and surety that can restore the horse’s confidence in mankind. As is his custom as an actor, he’s as sturdy and reliable as always in the role and is utterly convincing in chaps and jeans working a cattle ranch. As soothing as he can be with horses, these same qualities also manage to pacify and restore the child and her mother (with whom she’s involved in a bitter mental stalemate) into a state of normalcy. If the Eric Roth-Richard LaGravenese screenplay has a basic weakness, it’s in the Redford character of Tom Booker, a saintly man with all the answers and portrayed as a man who can commit mental adultery with the troubled mother without actually committing her to the physical act.
The first hour of the film is so chock full of spectacular vistas of the West that mere words can’t do them justice. Montana and the surrounding countryside has never looked so heavenly, so painterly perfect. (Redford captured similar exquisite landscapes in his earlier A River Runs Through It.) The sunrises and sunsets, the plains, the mountains, and the skies are worthy of analysis apart from the movie. Of course, the price of dwelling on these spectacular scenes is one of the reasons the running time is so extended.
The most outstanding performance in the picture belongs to Scarlett Johansson as the suffering physically and mentally Grace. The movie is really her journey back to mental and physical stability, and she doesn’t miss a moment of the highly emotional and extremely difficult scenes she has to act. Director Redford guides her with a sure hand. Kristin Scott Thomas as her mother is suffering in other ways, anguishing over her troubled marriage and her deteriorated relationship with her daughter. She gets short shrift in the script for her character, but the actress succeeds in making her a multi-dimensional and interesting person, though just exactly what her future will be is left open to question. That’s a nice touch on the part of the screenwriters and the director. Sam Neill only gets a few scenes to show his steely magnetism as the father, but his work is fine. So, too, is Dianne Wiest, almost unrecognizable as the overly plump farm wife who yearns for a foreign vacation but who knows that what she has at home is priceless. Wiest comes through with a wonderful performance, the antithesis of the sophisticated New Yorkers which garnered her two Oscars. Chris Cooper and Ty Hillman as other important members of the Booker family on the ranch also do solid work.
In attempting to suggest the differing aspect ratios of the theatrical presentation, the film’s first half hour is windowboxed with the remainder of the movie filling out the 2.35:1 aspect ratio delivered in 1080p using the AVC codec. Image sharpness varies throughout with some scenes at twilight especially gauzy and soft (perhaps the director’s choice since his close-ups are the softest focused of all). Color densities are rich and nicely controlled, and flesh tones seem true to the tanned ruggedness of the movie’s locale. Black levels aren’t exemplary. The film has been divided into 22 chapters.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 sound mix makes superb use of the audio technology available at the time. The accident which leads to the rest of the film will fill your viewing environment with horrifying depth, and Thomas Newman’s evocative score receives sterling treatment in the fronts and rears adding breadth to the drama. Dialogue has been expertly recorded and has been placed in the center channel. Other ambient sounds such as storms or the chatter at the dance hall make themselves heard and felt in this wonderful audio encode.
All of the very brief EPK featurettes are presented in 480i.
- A production featurette contains very brief sound bites from director Robert Redford and stars Kristin Scott Thomas and Sam Neill and mentions the plot of the film. It runs 1 ¾ minutes.
- A Robert Redford-themed featurette briefly has the filmmaker discussing directing himself in a movie in this 1 ½-minute vignette.
- A Buck Brannaman interview introduces us to a real-life horse whisperer in this 1 ¾-minute snippet.
“A Soft Place to Land” music video is performed by Allison Moorer and runs for 4 minutes.
The theatrical trailer runs for 2 ¼ minutes while the teaser trailer runs for 1 minute.
There are 1080p promo trailers for Who Framed Roger Rabbit, The Odd Life of Timothy Green, The Avengers, and Castle: Season 4.
4/5 (not an average)
Be prepared for an epic sit while viewing The Horse Whisperer, a noble and effective if just a bit indulgent drama featuring terrific performances and a very tender and moving story of renewal. The Blu-ray has reference quality sound and a mostly impressive picture which earns a firm recommendation.