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At The Movies: Wild Horses: Flicka **1/2

Sasha Stone

Mirror Film Critic

Flicka is a film about wild things. Or it wants to be. While the original book and film, My Friend Flicka, are about a boy and his horse, the new film more accurately depicts that powerful bond of a girl and her horse. Girls and horses are almost a mythological union. Men ride them, raise them, breed them and sell them, but girls fall in love with them. Alison Lohman plays Katie, a rebellious, dreamy teen who would prefer nothing more than existing amid the horses.

When we first meet her, she stares wistfully out the window while a pondering essay about horses plays in her head. But when it comes time to turn in her essay, she hasn’t written a word. This gets her kicked out of the expensive boarding school her parents have had to “go without” to keep her in.

Before Katie gets a chance to confess to her parents, they get a fax from the school (they’re rural folk, but they have laptops and fax machines). At the same time, on a trail ride, Katie finds Flicka, one of the last remaining mustangs in the area. Mustangs are unwanted around horse breeders because they can ruin a pure line and render the herd “worthless.”

Katie and Flicka are to become best friends, come hell or high water. Katie tames her, loves her and nurses her back to health. But she must do all of this behind her father’s back. She shows him disrespect because he wants her to focus on her schoolwork and stay away from horses. “You just don’t get it,” she tells him. We’re supposed to sympathize with Katie, but, in fact, the girl comes off as a bit of a brat. But since she’s saving the horse we all love so much, we have no choice BUT to root for her.

The story takes a sad turn, briefly, and this is where your kid is going to need a soft shoulder to cry on and a few hankies. But don’t worry; the child won’t have to confront the true horrors of this world in a family film like this one.

Directed by Michael Mayer, Flicka appears to be aimed at a particular demographic – either girls who blindly love horses and will see any movie featuring one, or all of the non-Hollywood types who live in the “fly-over” states, whose lives really are about raising horses, or cattle and/or riding in rodeos. Or most likely both. With Tim McGraw playing Katie’s dad it’s easy to imagine rural America. Not only is he in the film, but he also sings the film’s main song (I think that may qualify him for an Oscar nomination).

McGraw isn’t bad at all as the too-strict cowboy dad. After a time, you almost forget you’re watching Faith Hill’s other half. Lohman is adequately spirited as Katie, though a tad eroticized for the part. Maria Bello slums it as Katie’s free-spirited mother, a woman who’s not afraid of snakes or horses, and both respects her husband and challenges him when she thinks she needs to; no one in any traditional American household should object to her. In fact, there isn’t much to object to at all.

The only aspect of the film that warrants discussion (because really what you have here is a moderately entertaining, forgettable tween movie) is the tragedy that happened during filming, that has caused numerous protests against the film and a website. Two horses died, one of them in a freak accident and the other by getting entangled in the ropes. Truly, in this modern age, there is no need to be so “realistic” with the rodeo scenes that horses met with accidents that endangered them. Not in 2006.

There was a lot of hubbub about it because the Humane Society had been there to watch over the horses, and the studio claims that accidents happen and that was just what happened during filming. Knowing this info makes the enjoyment of Flicka a conflicting experience; while the film sends out an important message about wild mustangs and how they need and ought to be protected, it also sends out the message that when horses die during filming all you do is shift blame and release a statement saying it was a mistake. Why not own up to it by addressing it directly at the end of the film with an apology and a brief explanation? Why not dedicate the film to the horses that gave their lives for it?

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