Saturday, March 28, 2009

The Electric Horseman (1979) [PG] ****

Norman Sonny Steele (Robert Redford) is a five-time World Champion Rodeo Cowboy, but he has paid a price for his fame. Thrown from bulls and broncos countless times, Sonny has the broken bones to go with his championship belt buckles. Now past his prime and retired, Sonny has been hired by AMPCO, a large conglomerate, to pitch their Ranch Breakfast cereal at sporting events like rodeos and football games. At nighttime events he even wears a cowboy outfit with rows of tiny electric lights, while he rides a horse and holds aloft a large box of Ranch Breakfast.

To dull the pain and the humiliation, Sonny has turned to alcohol, and only his two friends and traveling companions Wendel (Willie Nelson) and Leroy (Timothy Scott) understand the depths to which he has sunk.

Sonny, Wendel and Leroy are in Las Vegas, where AMPCO is holding a big convention, at which Sonny is scheduled to sit on Rising Star, AMPCO’s champion thoroughbred racehorse and new corporate symbol. But at a rehearsal, Sonny realizes that the stallion is doped up on steroids and painkillers, making it sterile, He feels compassion for the animal and decides to do something about it.

By coincidence Hallie Martin (Jane Fonda), a New York TV reporter, is at the convention covering AMPCO’s takeover of a regional bank. But she becomes fascinated by Sonny Steele, and after he rides out of the convention hall on Rising Star and disappears, she senses a unique story in the making, and decides to track down Sonny and the horse. At first she’s only after a story, and Sonny treats her as a dangerous adversary, but as the days pass and the two get to know one another, and they gradually become friends and then something more.

This is a wonderful story about a man’s realization that his life, and the life of a champion racehorse, have become simply tools in a corporate marketing campaign, and that both are destined to be discarded once their usefulness has ended. The film features a great screenplay with some memorable dialogue, sympathetic direction by Sydney Pollack, terrific chemistry between Redford and Fonda (who were previously paired in Barefoot in the Park), an Oscar-nominated soundtrack including songs by Willie Nelson, breathtaking cinematography, and a terrific supporting cast including Valerie Perrine as Sonny’s ex-wife Carlotta, and Wilfred Brimley as a rancher who helps Sonny, Hallie and Rising Star make their getaway.

If you enjoyed Robert Redford in The Horse Whisperer, and you’ve never seen The Electric Horseman, you’re in for a real treat.

Labels: comedy, drama, romance, western

Internet Movie Database
RottenTomatoes Averages (critics=58, viewers=64)

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