Rated PG-13 - Running time: 2:48 - Released 5/15/98

Robert Redford has done it again. It would be okay if the man would occasionally show some sort of emotion. But as with The Electric Horseman, Out Of Africa, Indecent Proposal, and a dozen or so other titles I could mention, he remains stiff as a statue, delivering lines and looking good. Luckily, as director, he has the sense to surround himself with real actors so there is actually something for us to care about in this film.

Perhaps the best of those real actors is Scarlett Johansson, who plays Grace MacLean, a spoiled teenage girl from New York who has had a terrible accident while horseback riding with her best friend. After losing her lower right leg and learning to walk with a prosthesis, Grace must rediscover what life is all about. Added to the trauma of the accident is the loss of her friend and the total alienation of her beloved horse Pilgrim, who was also badly injured. And the dysfunctional relationship she has with her busy mother Annie (Kristin Scott Thomas) doesn't help.

While researching possible alternatives to euthanizing the animal, Annie finds an article about Tom Booker (Redford), a man in far off Montana who seems to have a way with problem horses. She contacts him and, although he refuses at first, will not take no for an answer. Against everyone's wishes, including her husband's (Sam Neill), she packs up the daughter and the horse and drives across country to find Booker. And, in a film that is as predictable as it is long, the two women discover the meaning of life and love while living on the ranch, learning to punch cows and ride Western.

The characters in this movie, written by Richard LaGravenese and Eric Roth based on the bestselling novel by Nicholas Evans, are badly stereotyped. In the beginning of the film, Annie is portrayed as such a nasty, unlovable person that it is obvious we are being set up for the big transition. Grace is the rich girl who hates her mother and won't open up to anyone. That is, until she meets Booker, the no-nonsense cowboy who doesn't cotton much to New Yorkers but feels sorry for the horse.

Redford has no trouble playing this role because it's the only one he ever plays. The two women do quite well, struggling against their unlikely characters, especially Johansson, who really seems to make a journey of sorts. And the cinematography by Robert Richardson is stunning, no doubt the best aspect of the film. His use of blue filters in the opening segment emphasizes the serenity of the girls' fateful ride, and his colors and landscapes truly elevate the film. Thomas Newman's music is also beautifully moving. But the running time of 2:48 seems excessive for what amounts to another movie of Robert Redford practicing his usual brand of cowboy psychology on his latest citified girlfriend. ***½

Copyright 1998 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

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