All The Pretty Horses (12)

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The View Review

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Review byMatthew Turner02/04/2001

3 stars out of 5
Running time: 120 mins

Slow-moving, elegiac western that suffers in the adaptation-process but compensates with superb performances and an impressive sense of atmosphere.

Writer / director / actor Billy Bob Thornton’s second film after the impressive Sling Blade is this adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s best-selling novel, though this time, Thornton has chosen to remain behind the camera. As such, he draws impressive performances from his cast and creates an authentic atmosphere, though the film suffers slightly in the adaptation process.

The film begins in Texas in 1949. Two young men, John Grady Cole (Damon) and Lacey Rawlins (Henry Thomas, still faintly recognisable as the kid from E.T.) ride down to Mexico in search of a life as genuine cowboys. On their way, they are joined by a cocky young boy, Jimmy Blevins (a superb performance by Lucas Black), who almost gets them into trouble when he attempts to steal back his horse after he loses it.

Once separated from Blevins, the two men find jobs in Mexico on a huge horse ranch, where Cole finds himself falling for the ranch owner’s beautiful daughter Alejandra (Penelope Cruz in the first of her two ‘big’ pictures this year - Captain Correlli’s Mandolin opens later this Spring). However, the fate of Blevins soon comes back to haunt them, and the two men find themselves in jail, accused of horse-theft!

The main problem with the film is that it is quite slow-moving, and that not all that much actually happens – the curse of a ‘worthy’ novel adaptation, especially an epic, sprawling novel like McCarthy’s.

Also, if the rumours are to be believed, Thornton’s original cut was around four hours long before the studio insisted he cut it down, suggesting that there may well be a director’s cut in the offing, which will no doubt surface on the DVD. At any rate, it’s true that at certain points, the film seems to skip forwards and various minor characters are introduced and then never seen again.

That said, there is still a lot of enjoyment to be had from the film. It’s well-acted, with Damon proving a good solid choice for leading roles of this sort, and Thomas providing excellent support so that you believe in their friendship. Cruz is also excellent, though perhaps under-used – one senses a lot more of the development of their relationship ended up on the cutting room floor.

The real scene-stealer of the film, however, is young Lucas Black as Blevins, who pulls off the remarkable feat of making a cocky, big-mouthed character sympathetic – his verbal sparring scenes with Thomas provide most of the film’s humour, such as when they challenge each other to a shooting task.

Although it’s true that the film is undoubtedly slow in places and that ultimately not much really happens, that’s not to say that there aren’t some exciting scenes along the way, in particular the prison knife-fight scene, shot realistically in that it’s over almost before you know what’s happening. In addition, the film boasts stunning photography by Barry Markowitz, with some truly breath-taking landscape shots that add considerably to the atmosphere of the film.

In general, then, this is, on balance, entertaining enough to be worth your while. Not a great movie, by any means, but well-made, gorgeous to look at, and with likeable characters you won’t mind spending two hours with. Worth watching.

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Content updated: 26/09/2015 07:22

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