Based on a novel by Nick Evans and directed by Robert Redford, a girl has a serious accident with a horse, and her mother takes them to a man expert at handling horses.
Young Judith (Catherine Bosworth) wakes up, gets dressed, and goes outside in the winter.
Annie MacLean (Kristin Scott Thomas) has newspapers, unlocks the door, and goes into the kitchen. She sits down and reads an article about herself that she does not like.
Judith meets her friend Grace MacLean (Scarlett Johansson), and they look at the horses.
Annie goes to work in her office and calls Robert MacLean (Sam Neill) who asks what train she is taking. She says she is coming at 2.
Annie is talking with other women about the paintings and takes a call from David Gottschalk. She says they are suing because he signed an agreement he would not talk to the press, and now he has libeled her by lying about the figures. He does not want her to sue, and she asks if he is going soft on her. She suggests it will be a public feud.
Judith and Grace ride horses in the snow. They sing as they go up a hill, but the horses lose their footing. A horse falls with Judith, and they slide down the hill. Judith’s foot is still in one stirrup. A large truck tries to stop in the snow, runs over Judith, and hits a horse.
Annie rushes to the hospital. Robert tells her that Judith is dead and that Grace is in bad shape. Her lower leg is very damaged, and he says they have to take part of her leg off.
Several people have found the injured horse under a bridge, but he runs away from them.
Grace is in a hospital bed. Annie and Robert are there and get a nurse to help her. The nurse says she has to change her bandage and suggests they come back later. Annie gets a phone call from Liz Hammond (Cherry Jones) who tells her that Pilgrim has very serious injuries. She thinks they should put him down and asks her permission. Annie says the doctor is here. She cannot decide now because it is Grace’s horse. She tells her not to shoot it but do what she can. Robert tells her the doctor is going off duty. She says she will get to know all the nurses’ names. He hugs her, and she goes to get Grace’s things. She has him stay in case she wakes up.
Liz looks at the bandaged horse.
A car stops in the city. Robert comes to the car and opens the door. Annie gets out, and Grace with crutches says she will be up by Christmas.
Annie, Robert, and Grace are eating dinner and talk. Grace leaves the table.
In the bathroom Annie tells Robert to stop helping her all the time. He says this did not just happen to her.
Grace with crutches walks into her school.
Annie says the man is a liar and will do anything to get a cover.
Annie finds Grace waiting for her outside the school. Grace says she does not want to go back. Annie says she has to go to school, and she will not stay home all day feeling sorry for herself.
Grace in bed watches a video of her riding a horse and jumping. She tells Robert and Annie that she wants to see Pilgrim.
In the rain a car arrives, and Grace, Annie, and Robert go into the barn with Liz who explains that Pilgrim is not the same horse he was. Grace sees Pilgrim and goes in. She sees a bloody wound on his nose and leaves. She asks her father Robert why he did not tell her. Liz tells Annie she should have told her. Annie refuses permission to put him down.
At work Annie declines a phone call. She searches on the web to read about horse injuries. She learns the history of ancient horses. At first humans killed horses for meat. Horses feared people, and only a few men understood them. They are called the whisperers.
Tom Booker (Robert Redford) at a pay phone returns Annie’s call. He says he helps horses with people problems. She heard he is a horse whisperer, and she would like to hire him. He says he mostly conducts clinics, and she asks him to come to New York for the day. He says he is going to Montana, and she offers to pay his fare first class. He says that is a waste of money. He says she called the wrong person and that there are fine horse doctors in the East. She does not want a horse doctor. He hopes everything goes okay for her and her horse, and he hangs up.
Annie asks Grace if she is all right. Grace says she decided they should put Pilgrim down so he won’t suffer. She also suggests putting herself down because she is not much use anymore. Annie takes a deep breath, and Grace says she is getting a fax. Annie opens a window and breathes fresh air.
Robert comes in and says Annie is up late. She asks why he went, and he says they are still their friends. He suggests they go some place warm, but she says Grace would have to wear summer dresses and shorts. Annie says she wants to take Pilgrim to the man in Montana and Grace too. He is surprised. She says Liz will find her a trailer. He questions taking a crazed horse and says he can’t pack up and leave. She is not asking him to. He asks if she can take care of Pilgrim by herself. She says he will be sedated. He asks about the magazine. She says she is in charge and can oversee things from Montana. He asks about Grace and reminds her the doctor said she needs stability. She says he has not been effective with her. He asks if she is a psychiatrist. They quarrel, and she says they are losing her. She has a feeling and says she knows it is the right thing. He asks if the cowboy vet knows she is coming. She says yes. She says Grace will go if he thinks she should. Grace appears and tells her father she does not want to go.
Men back up a trailer to the barn and struggle to get Pilgrim in. Liz says they gave him another sedative. They get the horse in the trailer.
Annie is driving in the rain while Grace sits in the back seat. There are many big rigs that make Pilgrim nervous.
On a clear day they drive by fields, and Annie suggests they stop. Annie suggests Grace put her music on up there, but she stays with her earphones. They drive past the badlands and enter Montana. Annie says when she was thirteen, she loved doing things like this. Annie stops and asks Grace how long this is going to go on. Annie gets out and asks her if she wants to go home. Grace says she did not ask her if she wanted to go. She asks if she gets to decide now. Annie says she is doing it for her. Grace says it is for her mother and asks why her father did not come. Annie says he had to work. They quarrel. Grace says her mother acts like she has all the answers. Annie walks to a monument in a cemetery and cries. Later in the dark a law officer shines a flashlight in her face and asks if she is all right. He says the young lady is worried. Annie goes back to the car.
They drive on a two-lane highway in the mountains. They pause and look around at uninhabited land, and Grace uses sarcastic humor about how bleak it is.
At a motel Annie comes back and sees Grace trying to walk on her own.
On a country road Annie sees snowcapped mountains ahead.
The boy Joey on a horse talks to his uncle Frank Booker (Chris Cooper) and Tom. They see the car arrive without the trailer. Annie gets out and asks for Tom Booker. He walks over, and she says she had a hard time finding the place. He suspects she is not just driving through. She asks him to take a look at her horse and says he is at the motel with her daughter. He realizes that she drove him out here by herself and says he appreciates it, but. She interrupts and says she only wants a few minutes of his time to look at him. If he still feels the same way, then she will be on the road again. She says he can come whenever he is free and does not have to call. She goes back to the car and drives away.
Grace hears a knock and opens the door. She tells Tom that her mother is on the phone and her mother that another cowboy is here. On the phone Annie is saying that she will take care of it. Tom notices that Grace has an artificial leg. He sits and asks if this is her first time in Montana. Grace is watching television. Tom asks if she is going to be long, and Grace says she is on the phone 23 hours a day because she is an editor. Grace tells him that she does not want to be a part of this. Annie hangs up and shakes hands with Tom. She asks if she can come with him when he looks at Pilgrim. He says okay and suggests that Grace stay behind.
Tom says hello to Lester who warns him about the horse. Tom goes in the barn, and the horse gets upset at first. Tom shouts at him, and Pilgrim calms down. Tom opens the gate, and Pilgrim comes out into the corral. Tom kneels down and sees the horse’s wounds. Grace has come to watch with Annie. Tom walks away and out of the corral. Annie says he is the closest anyone has gotten. He feels she made a long trip for nothing. He has a question for Grace because when he works with a horse, the owner has to be involved. Annie says it is complicated. He asks if she will be riding him. He tells Grace that he will do what he can if she will help. He asks if she has a problem with that. She asks if it is not obvious. He says either she wants to or she doesn’t. Annie starts to explain, but Tom interrupts and says it Grace’s decision. He does not want to waste anyone’s time. Grace says there is nothing else to do around here. He says that is not good enough and that he can’t help her and walks away. Grace asks what she has to do and repeats it louder, and he turns around.
While they are eating, Diane Booker (Dianne Wiest) asks if she wants Tom to take care of her horse. She asks if the girl goes to school. She says she has a lot of nerve showing up here. Frank says she must be a determined woman. She asks where they are going to eat. Frank says women from New York eat salads, and Diane says they really need a vegetarian on their cattle ranch.
Tom goes into a round corral with Pilgrim who moves around, and he tells Frank that he got him moving out. Pilgrim is muddy as Tom works with him.
Tom and Frank use ropes to help Pilgrim bathe in a stream. They try to get him out of there, and Tom calms him down. Annie says she is not comfortable with him taking these risks. The horse breaks away and rides off, and he tells Grace to let him go. Tom walks in a meadow after Pilgrim.
Joey talks with Grace about why they are not in school right now. He asks her how her horse was to ride, but she says nothing.
Tom is looking at the horse from a distance, and Annie asks if they are in the way and should go. He says nothing, and she leaves. Later Annie drives the car with Grace back to where Tom is waiting. The horse comes to him, and he touches his head and leads him and tells Annie to leave her phone somewhere else. Diane asks Annie if she and her daughter would like to stay for dinner.
At the dinner table Frank says the blessing. Then they serve themselves and start eating. Frank talks about the cattle they raise. Annie talks about eating black Angus and thinks the bulls have it easy compared to the cows. Tom says 90% of the bulls get castrated and served as hamburger; so he would choose to be a cow. They laugh. Frank asks how they are doing at the motel. Annie says it is okay, but it gets dark early. They agree it is a lot of driving time. Frank suggests that Annie and Grace move into the old creek house while Tom is working on the horse. Annie says they are fine. Diane says they probably want their privacy, but Frank says it has doors. Tom says it is up to Annie. Grace says it would be great if her dad came, and she explains he is home working. Annie asks how long he will be working with Pilgrim, and Tom says it depends on the horse.
Grace on the phone asks her father when he is coming to visit. Annie is packing and talks to Robert too. He says he misses her, and she misses him too.
Annie and Grace move into the creek house.
While Tom works with Pilgrim, Annie and Grace watch. Smokey (Don Edwards) says hi to Annie. Tom puts on gloves and takes the rope. He forms a lasso and throws it around the horse’s neck. The horse rears up on two legs and runs around. Then he calms down. Tom takes off his gloves and gently uses the rope to lower the horse’s head which he strokes. The horse walks to him, and Smokey nods.
On the range Tom is riding and whistles to Frank. They move cattle into a corral and brand the calves. Tom asks Annie to make herself useful, and she helps give the injections. Tom holds Grace as he brands a calf. Tom gives Annie her hat. Tom asks Grace to help out by rubbing down the horses and cleaning the stalls. She says it is not a question, and he agrees. She smiles and says okay.
Many people are eating outside. An old lady tells how she and Joe raised Frank and Tommy. Annie says her father was a diplomat, and they lived in different countries.
Diane tells Annie how Tom’s mother likes to tell how he ran off and found protection with a horse.
Grace asks Joey why he always wears his hat, and he asks if she wants to try it on.
On a porch Tom does a rope trick for boys, and they go off to play. Annie sits down, and he asks why she rarely stays in one place very long. She says in New York it gets you renovated. She says she gets the feeling he is laughing at her, and he asks why. She says he is supposed to say he is not laughing at her; but he says she takes care of both sides of the conversation. He says she can call him Tom. He admits he is laughing a bit and urges her to relax into the place. She says it is beautiful country and would be a good vacation place, but she does not see how he does it full time. She asks if he misses the rest of the world. He asks what there is to miss, and she suggests museums and restaurants and theater and music. He says he met his wife in Chicago. He was studying engineering, and she played the cello.
At night Annie is reading a book in bed and turns out the light.
Tom rides a horse, and he sees Annie jogging. She says she runs, and he says that is lucky because the grizzlies usually go for the joggers. He asks if she is sleeping okay in the house. She says the house is fine. He rides over and tells her to hold out her hand so that the horse could get the smell of her. He asks why she does not ride anymore. She says she has no time. He tells her to enjoy the day and goes on.
Grace has a watering hose and looks at Pilgrim. Tom comes in with a saddle. He asks her to take a ride with him. They walk to his truck, and he gives her the key to drive. She says she can’t, but he tells her to get in. He tells her the pedals are for gas and the brake. She does not think she can with her leg. He tells her to try it and helps her learn how to drive. He closes his eyes and tells her to go on until she runs out of road. They sit on the back of the truck and talk in a field. She asks if he is afraid of anything. He says growing old and not being of much use. He asks her what happened with Pilgrim. He says he has a problem. He likes to know the history of the horse he works with. He needs to find out what is going on in his head; it would help if he knew what happened that day. She can tell him when she feels like it.
Tom rides over to Annie with a neglected horse and persuades her to ride him. They ride, and she says she never rode western before. They cross a stream and then ride a little faster. He asks if she is okay, and they gallop. They stop on the top of a hill and get off to look at the view. She says she envies his mother because she does not have to make important decisions anymore. She feels there would be peace in that. He says you do not have to be that old to experience peace. He feels it when he knows he is home. She says she had no right to bring Grace here away from her father and friends. The more she tries to fix things the more they fall apart. He says maybe she should have let them fall. She says she can’t and asks if he thinks she was right to come. He cannot answer that. She says Grace will let her, and he says she is a strong kid. He says she gets that from somebody and smiles. She thanks him for what he is doing and for the house. She asks what his wife was like. He describes her red hair. When she played music, he never heard anything like it. He knew she did not want to be a rancher’s wife, but he thought maybe she could give music lessons. He says she was not happy here because there was too much space. She asks why he left Chicago, and he says there was not enough space. She asks how he knew. He says that part was easy, but saying it out loud is hard. She says it seems obvious to know they weren’t right for each other. He says he did not love her because it was right; he just loved her. After the sun has set, they get back on the horses. He says it took guts for her to come here. He helps her get her feet in the stirrups and touches her leg.
Grace in the kitchen hears and sees them coming back. Annie gets off the horse, and Tom leads it away.
Grace asks Joe if she can ride his horse and asks him to give her a hand. She tries to get on the saddle but falls on the ground. The twins laugh, and Joe tells them not to say anything.
Annie is cooking in the kitchen. Grace checks with her and goes back and asks those waiting at the table if anyone wants a drink. Tom says he will help. He goes into the kitchen, and Annie gives him a task. At the table Grace says Annie used spaghetti sauce from a jar. Diane would like to know what brand to pick. Diane thanks her for giving her a night off. She says they could use a vacation to Morocco, and Frank says they are going to Branson for the wedding. Diane says Branson is not Morocco. They hear the boys fighting, and Frank and Diane leave with them. Tom tells Annie not to let her turn her away, and he goes out too. Annie sits down alone. She goes into Grace’s room and asks if she is all right. She asks if she tried riding. Grace says yes, but she is not cured yet. Annie says no one is trying to cure her. Annie says she knows she likes to ride, and Grace says she knows everything. Annie asks why they can’t talk and why she is so angry at her. Grace says now she knows how it feels. Annie says she is sorry for pushing her. Grace says she has to be the perfect daughter of her perfect mother. Annie says she does not deserve that. Grace says she did a great job and cries. She asks who is going to want her like this. Annie hugs her and tries to understand what she is feeling. Annie says she felt like that when her dad died at her age. Grace hoped her parents would have another kid so that she would not be so special. Annie says someday someone will see she is an extraordinary woman and will love her. They hug.
Tom sits on a saddle in the corral and prepares a rope. Pilgrim nudges him.
Annie answers the phone for a conference call with Gottschalk and Phelps. She says she is ready.
Grace opens the stable door and looks at Pilgrim. She slowly goes in, and Pilgrim backs up. Tom comes back and sees Grace who says she was waiting for him. He asks if she is hungry.
Tom is heating some food, and Grace tells how Judith and she were going to go on the railroad bridge. They were laughing about something, and the horse fell; but Judith’s foot was caught in the stirrup. She saw a truck coming and honking. Grace tried to grab the reins and get her horse out of the way. The truck skidded and ran into Judith. Then the truck came at her and Pilgrim who reared up at the truck. Grace fell off. She cries and says to Judith she is so sorry. Tom sits down and embraces her. She is crying, and he says she did not do anything wrong. The same thing could have happened to him or others. He says it does not make sense to try to figure out why these things happen. He tells about a Blackfeet boy who dove into a lake and broke his neck on a rock. He looked in on him once in a while, but his mind and spirit were no longer there. The only thing left was anger, and the boy he knew went somewhere else. She says she knows where he goes. He tells her not to disappear but do whatever she can to hold on. He says when Pilgrim reared up against the truck, he was trying to protect her. They hug.
Tom rides and lets Pilgrim run with him.
They move the cattle, and Annie rides with them.
On a log Tom shows Annie the rope trick and shows it to her again, saying she has to smile which she does.
By a stream Diane sits down with Annie and says it must be nice to be off work for a while. Annie says she is not manager anymore and admits they fired her. Diane says she does not seem upset. Annie says it is delayed shock, or maybe it isn’t. She is sure she can talk her way back in or get another magazine job. She is not sure she wants to. Diane says she does not have to figure it out until she gets home. Annie asks Diane if she always knew she wanted this life. Diane says she was a rancher’s daughter and didn’t have far to go to be a rancher’s wife. Annie says Frank is a good man, and Diane says they don’t come any better. She thinks about the things she won’t have and says maybe she won’t get to see Morocco. Annie asks if Tom had many girlfriends after his divorce. Diane says she is not good at this kind of talk. She says Tom means so much to this family, and she tells her not to go looking for anything she is looking for. She tells her not to make him go through something it took him so long to see his way clear of. Annie says Tom would never do anything he did not want to do. Diane says he is a good man and that he has a gift from heaven above; but he is still a man.
By the campfire Smokey plays guitar and sings. While others are sleeping, Annie sees that Tom’s sleeping bag is empty. She finds him by the stream, and they kiss. She says she needs to know something, and he asks if she is sure. She says she has to get back.
Several people are riding horses behind the truck driven by Diane. Grace from the truck calls to her father Robert. Annie introduces him to the others. Robert thanks Tom and says he sees a difference in Grace.
On a porch Robert tells how he got directions. Grace tells how her dad got lost in India. Robert says he was in the Peace Corps, and Grace says that is where he met her mom. Grace asks Robert to tell how they met. Robert says Annie was a journalist and came to him to ask where Tubab is. He says he told her it means white man.
Later Robert caresses Annie in the bedroom. He says the bed is small, and maybe he should sleep in the barn. She says he is allergic to hay. He apologizes for surprising her, and she says he has every right to be here. He says she was right to bring her here. She admits many times she was not so sure. She says he must be tired, and he agrees.
Tom puts on a record and sits down.
The next day Tom shows Robert the cattle and closes a gate for him. They look at Pilgrim, and Tom says it is up to the horse how much longer it will take.
People enjoy western dancing and music. Grace urges her father to dance. Tom dances with Annie during “A Soft Place to Fall.” He puts her hand on his chest and dances next to her body. After the song they sit down.
In the morning Annie finds Tom apart from the others and asks if this is how it is going to be now, that he is not going to speak to her. She asks him to say something, and he says no. He says he can’t get in the middle of this, but she says he is. He says he is a good man. She never said he wasn’t. She asks if he knows what he wants. He says he does and is trying hard not to get lost in it. He did not think he would feel this way again. He says this is where he belongs, and this is who he is. He asks if this is what she wants, and she says yes. He asks if she is sure, and she nods. He asks if she can tell that to Robert and Grace. He asks if she had a chance to go home and change whether she would. She says it is not that simple. He says it is. She says it is not fair, and he agrees.
Tom goes to see Pilgrim at night and tells him he has to do something tomorrow.
The next day Tom puts a saddle on Pilgrim as the others watch. He walks over to Grace and puts his arm around her. Tom leads the horse which whinnies. He calms him. Frank tells Grace he will be okay if she hangs on for a minute or two. Pilgrim rears up. Tom looks at Smokey who joins him. Tom uses a rope. Grace asks what he is doing, and he says he is doing something different. He says it is Pilgrim’s chance and hers. She says okay and Smokey has her move aside. Tom works the horse with a rope while one leg is restrained by the rope. Grace says that is enough and shouts for him to stop. Tom does it some more. Robert walks away. Annie holds Grace in her arms. Tom drags the horse to the ground and pets him. Tom is sitting on the horse and tells Grace this is where she comes in. She walks over, and Tom tells her to sit next to him. She says she can’t. He says she has to do it, and he asks her to trust him one more time. He has her sit on the horse and stroke him. She does so. Tom takes the rope off the leg and stands up. Grace is weeping. Tom tells Grace that they are going to show her how to get on Pilgrim without him being there. He tells her to put her leg over the saddle. He says they are going to rock him up. Robert is watching too. The horse stands up with Grace in the saddle. Pilgrim walks and then gently trots around the corral. Robert comes in the corral and takes Annie’s hand. Everyone is smiling, and Tom doffs his hat. Grace stops and raises her arms. She hugs Pilgrim and gets off with Tom’s help. They hug each other. Grace walks to her mother, and they hug. Grace goes to her father as Annie and Tom look at each other.
Annie finds Smokey in the corral and asks if Tom is around. He says he went to Sheridan last night to get some horses. He does not know when he is coming back and offers to help her load Pilgrim.
Annie is packing and asks Tom when his flight is. She says she wants to drive Pilgrim back and will leave when he and Grace go. He suggests that she take her time. He closes the door and says he has two choices like the horse. He can fight the way things are or accept them. He always felt he loved her more. He felt lucky and amazed that a woman like her would want to be with a man like him. He thought if he could do everything right by being the best husband and father and a good lawyer, then it wouldn’t make any difference if they did not love each other equally. He didn’t ask for more and told himself he did not need any more; but the truth is that she does not know how she feels about him or whether she wants a life with him anymore. He does not want her to come home until she does know, one way or the other. He asks if that is okay, and she nods. She embraces him and cries.
Grace is in woods. Annie packs the car, and Diane wishes her good luck. Diane says Tom is not too good at goodbyes, and Frank says he is not good at hellos either. Grace hugs her mother and asks when she will be home. Annie says in a few days, and she tells Robert that she will call him. They drive off in the car Robert came in.
Annie goes in the house and looks around. She goes outside and looks at the stream and the other house. She goes to the trailer and touches Pilgrim. She looks back and sees Tom. He asks if he is going in the trailer or is going to run alongside. He says he wanted to be here when she left. She says she does not want to leave him, and they embrace. He says he does not want her to. She asks for a few more days, and he asks then what. She asks why this happened. He says he does not ask those questions. He did not ask to lover her, but he does. He will always have that with him. She asks if they can go for one last ride, and he says he will saddle them up. While he puts a blanket on a horse, he hears her car leave with the trailer. She cries as she drives.
This drama portrays an assertive mother who wants to help her traumatized daughter to recover by healing the horse as well. The mother gets to know a man who is much more peaceful and knows how to be gentle and caring. Everyone feels better through the therapy, and the mother has to make a romantic decision. This modern story depicts how some horse trainers have learned how to tame horses gently rather than by “breaking” their spirits.