He's made his mark in the Hollywood mainstream as a popular leading man and an Academy Award-winning director as well as in the maverick world of independent filmmaking, where he presides over Utah's prestigious Sundance Film Festival. Throughout his enduring career, Robert Redford has also displayed uncanny acumen for spotting hot movie properties. The Horse Whisperer, which he co-produced, directed, and starred in opposite Kristin Scott Thomas is his latest coup. Originally slated as a 1997 release but pushed back because of weather woes (wrought by El Nino) during filming, the movie adaptation of Nicholas Evans's bestseller opens this month. Evans was a struggling screenwriter when he got the idea for what became a publishing phenomenon. In fact, the first-time novelist was only halfway through writing the unabashedly sentimental tome about hope and redemption when his agent released the manuscript. Then came frenzy, Hollywood style. Following a voracious bidding war, Redford emerged victorious shelling out $3 million. Little wonder that when North American publishing rights were later offered, Dell Publishing spent a record $3,150,000. And the rest, as the story goes, is history . . .

So how will the movie compare with the book? Would-be critics can easily brush-up with the new movie tie-in version out this month. The Horse Whisperer moves briskly, with its story of a Montana loner who's asked to heal a young girl and her horse following a tragic accident. Along the way, the country guy falls for the mother (a city gal), and love proves to be the strongest medicine of all. Should the movie become as much a favorite as the book, there could be a stampede for the handsomely produced, The Horse Whisperer: An Illustrated Companion to the Major Motion Picture. Reviewed by Pat H. Broeske.

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