Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Flick of The Day: All The Pretty Horses

The first thing that must be said about this film is that it is not a great adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's novel, leaving far too much of his rich prose out of the tale it tells, that said such is the quality of McCarthy's work that it would be almost impossible to fashion a film under 3 hours in length if you were to really adapt the novel truthfully. So it proved for film-maker Billy Bob Thornton, who's first cut of the film ran somewhere between 3 and 4 hours in length. Producer Harvey Weinstein forced Thornton to eventually cut this down to the sub 2 hour running time it was released with. This protracted editing led many critics to hate the film before they had seen it and it was eviscerated both critically and commercially, grossing only $15m of its estimated $50m production costs. That said, the film is far better then those figures would imply.
Matt Damon is John Grady Cole, a sixteen year old cowboy from Texas who upon the death of his grandfather decides to head south of the border with his best friend, Lacey Rawlins. They head to Meciso in search of adventure and the kind of cowboy lifestyle that has disappeared from Texas by 1949. In Mexico, they soon befriend a young boy named Jimmy Blevins who has a stolen horse and little else to his name. There is more to Blevins then meets the eye but the pair choose to take him at face value. After a run in with the law,  John and Lacey get work on a ranch for a wealthy landowner, where John quickly falls in love with the ranchers daughter, Alejandra played by the beautiful Penelope Cruz. Before long, their adventures with Blevins catch up with them and they find themselves in a brutal prison. John ultimately tries to move heaven and earth to get back to Alejandra.
Billy Bob Thornton has created a film that is visually stunning, with some gorgeous wide shots of the wild landscape that spans the border between Texas and Mexico. He shows a real understanding for zeitgeist in which the story is set, however there is one major jarring flaw and it is do with the editing. It is obvious throughout that this is a four hour film that has been cut to two hours, all of the scenes particularly those on the ranch and in the prison have a truncated feel, as if we are missing out on a whole lot of detail. Too many fadeouts and short scenes. This is a terrible shame because what is there is of the first order and once can't help but feel there is a modern classic sitting on the cutting room floor.
Matt Damon gives the kind of measured performance we have becomes accustomed to seeing over the years, capturing the heartbreak of his experiences in Mexico. He and Henry Thomas are aided in their performances by a fine script. 

Doña Alfonsa: In the end, Mr. Cole...we all get cured of our sentiments. Those whom life doesn't cure...death will.

In the end, the film is a reverential elegy to a time that has long since past. It captures a true sense of what the west and does so solidly if unspectacularly. Whether you are a fan or not of Cormac McCarthy's work, this is a film well worth seeing for it is a great story, with strong leads to carry it through. It is just a shame it is not all it could have been.

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