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All The Pretty Horses

movie review out of 4 Movie Review: All The Pretty Horses

Starring: Matt Damon, Penelope Cruz
Director: Billy Bob Thorton
Rated: PG-13
RunTime: 117 Minutes
Release Date: December 2000
Genres: Drama, Romance, Western

*Also starring: Lucas Black, Ruben Blades, Sam Shepard, Robert Patrick, Bruce Dern

Review by Harvey Karten
No Rating Supplied

While this year's character played by Tom Hanks, Chuck Noland, found a spot of land undiscovered and free even of bird life, a journey such as his is impossible in the U.S. The great historian, Frederick Jackson Turner, pronounced the American frontier closed as of 1890, presumably leaving some of the Cook Islands as the only area short of Mars that has not been inhabited by humankind. So what's a fella to do if he's looking for wide open spaces, passionate romance, and a chance to carve out a life free of the 5 o'clock rush- hour traffic? For John Grady Cole (Matt Damon), the central figure of Cormac Mcarthy's major novel which has been adapted to the screen by Ted Talley, the answer seems clear. He is in line to inherit a nice piece of Texas ranch land, but when his grandpa dies and his absent mother sells the land out from under him, he has no place to go. No place, that is, until he notes that all he had to do was cross what amounted to a puddle of water ironically called the Rio Grande and head out to the still not-so-developed Mexico.

The adventures that befall Cole and hs best buddy Lacey Rawlins (Henry Thomas) as they head out to the new frontier in 1949 are the stuff of this film helmed by Billy Bob Thornton, whose aim seems to be to capture the precious dialogue in the McCarthy novel while showing his audience a picture of post-World War II frontier life uncluttered by the high melodrama of 1950's American Westerns. No general stores with barrels of food along the main street, no bars with assertive women named Kitty, no duels at high noon here. Unfortunately, however, what is intended to be art is just another horse opera made in an understated and underproduced manner to give the viewer the impression that he is looking at virtuosity. Since the Romeo-and-Juliet romantic interest that develops midway through the story between Cole and the rich and forbidden Alejandra (Penelope Cruz) is only about as fiery as the first sparks set off by Chuck "Flintstone" Noland while rubbing sticks together on his South Pacific island, and since the drama comes to cinematic life only twice when an unfortunate fellow is dragged away for execution and Cole must defend himself in a prison fight, "All the Pretty Horses" gives us ample time to concentrate on the title characters of the movie and put the laconic human beings out of our thoughts.

The journey of self-discovery on foreign land finds Cole and Rawlins meeting up with the sixteen-year-old Jimmy Blevins (Lucas Black), who is riding what they suspect is a stolen animal. Horsing around with him, they agree to let him join the trek only to find that he becomes the source of much of their troubles. Cole and Rawlins are hired as help on a prosperous ranch owned by the English-speaking Rocha (Ruben Blades), giving Rocha's daughter the opportunity to cast her come-hither eyes on the handsome young gringo, Cole. Engaging in forbidden love, Cole winds up in jail together with Rawlins, where the former must prove his manhood in the obligatory fight, which is well staged involving a choreographed exit from the dining tables by all prisoners save Cole and the man who is expected to kill him.

Filmed by Barry Markowitz in a surprisingly conventional manner with obligatory filtered National Geographic-style shots on the rugged, uninviting landscape, "All the Pretty Horses" fails to capture the nuances of the McCarthy novel, particularly the humorous moments. Despite that, the film is overly talky, the adventurers expressing their sophomoric dreams for the lives the want to lead. A negative product placement for the Mexican Tourist Board, "All the Pretty Horses" is pretty much a neigh.

Copyright 2000 Harvey Karten

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