Retro Review: All the Pretty Horses

Generation X star Mat Damon stars as John Grady Cole, who is one of the last real cowboys who believes that running away to Mexico will solve all his problems.

He believes that Mexico is the land of opportunity and is just sitting there waiting to be plucked. Cole’s best friend Lacey (played by Henry Thomas) is fascinated by Cole’s dream and decides to join him for the journey.

Upon reaching the Rio Grande, Cole and Lacey are met by a strange somewhat paranoid boy named Jimmy (Lucas Black of American Gothic). Jimmy seems to have been burned most of his life. Cole seems to be drawn to this in a sort of parental feeling and a kindred spirit builds.

A couple real strange and bizarre events transpire after the cowboys take in the boy and eventually they part ways. Cole and Lacey stumble upon a rancher (Ruben Blades) and his vast horse ranch. Cole and Lacey believe this is the world they came to Mexico to envelope.

The two seem to be in paradise even when Cole starts having a secret love affair with the rancher’s daughter, Alejandra (Penelope Cruz). The love of Cole and Alejandra becomes passionate and all consuming until that one fateful day.

After one night of passion with Alejandra, Cole is ripped out of his quarters and chained from head to toe. He is carried to the town jail where he meets Lacey and the estranged boy Jimmy. Confusion sets in and he has no idea what has happened to them and what has happened to their paradise. What did happen and how will they overcome this radical change of events?

“All the Pretty Horses” reminded me a lot of the Leonardo DeCaprio film, “The Beach”. Its concept, “the stripping away of paradise for sins of the past”, sums up each film in its entirety. Are these lessons we must endure or overcome?

“Horses” doesn’t really break out of that concept or try to shy away which was very similar to the theme of the “Beach”. Hollywood has even cast another heart-throb in the lead to romance a foreign beauty. Also like DeCaprio, Damon has those boyish looks that will make every brutal scene seem like the character is innocent.

What made me believe more in this picture than in the “Beach” was the film’s score which is a beautiful blend of spaghetti western fair and Latin melody. It’s hypnotic and delivers you through a lot of the tougher scenes. The tough scenes usually involve a lot of scenery and needless dialogue to propel the cowboys journey.

Director Billy Bob Thornton directs this film in the same style and scope of a lot of Robert Redford films. The Redford films I refer to are “Horse Whisperer” and “Legend of Bagger Vance”. The scope is majestic and really compliments the rich musical score.

Matt Damon carries on with his rich movie roles. He absorbs in this character the much the same way he did Mr. Ripley last year. I really liked his scenes with Ruben Blades. Blades is still one of the best Latino actors working today.
What was a real shame was the vacuous Cruz who seemed to be the typical clone daughter who is emotionally pulled apart by love and family. Why didn’t they at least give this girl some inner strength.

I also really enjoyed the return of Henry Thomas. I haven’t seen this actor since “Legends of the Fall” and have always liked watching his emergence since we all fell in love with the Henry as Elliot in ET.

Aside from Cruz, I have to mention my biggest disappointment was the ending of this film. Was it necessary to have so many different conclusions? The editing process I think really dumbfounded director Thornton in the last 40 minutes. This is another case of wearing out its welcome.

(3.5 out of 5)

So Says the Soothsayer.

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