All The Pretty Horses

2000, Movie, R, 117 mins


Director Billy Bob Thornton holds these truths to be self-evident: A sweeping Western landscape is worth 1,000 words; horses are just about God's finest creations, though spirited young women and stoic young men come close; and Cormac McCarthy's spare narrative can survive separation from his evocative prose. Set in 1949, the same period as THE HI-LO COUNTRY, McCarthy's novel is suffused with the same sense of loss at the spectacle of the fabled Western frontier dwindling before corporate America's ruthless encroachment. After his grandpa dies and his estranged mother sells off the family's West Texas spread, young John Grady Cole (Matt Damon) and his childhood pal, Lacey Rawlins (Henry Thomas), saddle up and head for Mexico, where they've heard there are still vast cattle ranches waiting to be worked by eager cowboys. The friends ride part of the way with a scrawny, underage, hard-luck runaway named Blevins (Lucas Black), and part company with him under circumstances that come back to haunt them. They find work in Mexico, and Cole's gumption impresses el jefe Rocha (Ruben Blades), but he makes the mistake of falling for Rocha's headstrong daughter, Alejandra (Penelope Cruz). The consequences of Cole's impetuosity test to the breaking point both his love for Alejandra and his friendship with Rawlins. Thornton's devotion to classical Western conventions is evident, as is his love of McCarthy's book — it must have pained him to pare away so much resonant detail for length. His determination to cast authentically is also laudable: Thornton rejected several bankable actresses for the role of Alejandra with a terse, "She ain't Mexican" (strictly speaking, neither is Cruz, but at least she's Latin). But Damon is stiff and colorless, and the leads are older than their characters were originally written, robbing a certain poignance from their crash course in life's brutal unfairness. The movie's greatest liability, though, is the familiarity of the material, much parodied since the glory days of John Ford. Unfortunately, Thornton's love for its iconography doesn't quite bring it to life. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh

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All The Pretty Horses
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