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movie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: Hidalgo

Starring: Viggo Mortensen, Omar Sharif
Director: Joe Johnston
Rated: PG-13
RunTime: 135 Minutes
Release Date: March 2004
Genres: Action, Drama

*Also starring: Zuleikha Robinson, Adoni Maropis, Adam Alexi-Malle, Louise Lombard, Beverly Graham, Marshall Manesh, Malcolm McDowell, Frank Collison, Said Taghmaoui, Elizabeth Berridge, Joseph J. Dawson

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1.  Harvey Karten review follows movie reviewmovie review
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Review by Harvey Karten
2 stars out of 4

A courier for the U.S. Cavalry takes part in Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show, but barely. He's drunk and undergoing an identity crisis triggered by his witnessing the slaughter in 1890 of Indians at Wounded Knee, South Dakota. That sounds like a Western, and in the opening scenes, Joe Johnston's "Hidalgo," utilizing John Fusco's meandering script, that's just what this movie is. When the alienated cowboy travels the ocean with his horse to take part in a 3,000 mile race across the Arabian desert, we have what might with some awkwardness be called a Middle-Eastern. The movie is an unwieldy as its genre, jolted by some choppy editing and the imposition of a quasi-romantic scene that could have been excised to bring the running time down to a more merciful 110 minutes. "Hidalgo" could then conceivably have charmed its targeted family audience. Despite these disadvantages, even throwing in some awfully ham-fisted performances and cornball dialogue like the line uttered by an Arabian beauty to an American cowboy, "Why do I feel that you truly see me when others do not?" "Hidalgo" might deserve a viewing simply to admire Shelly Johnson's stunning photography in tourist-friendly Morocco albeit in the southern part which these days invites travelers who are more rugged than those satisfied with the imperial settings of Fez, Casablanca and Marrakesh.

As a potential title, "Frank Hopkins of Arabia" lacks the punch of David Lean's 1962 epic starring Peter O'Toole but like the film about the idiosyncratic T.E. Lawrence and his role during World War I, this must be seen on the big screen. The focus is not so much on the title character, a mustang horse, as on the equestrian Frank Hopkins who, like Tom Cruise's character in "The Last Samurai" is traumatized by a senseless slaughter--in this story because he is a closeted Indian or, more accurately half Native American and passing for white. Because Hidalgo has been touted as the finest long-distance horse in the world, an Arabian sheikh (Omar Sharif) invites his rider through a messenger to race his mustang in a 3,000 mile competition across the desert from Aden to Syria. Place and show are irrelevant: first horse across the finish line gets $100,000; the others are chopped liver or glue.

"Hidalgo" is an adventure story that allows Viggo Mortensen an opportunity to strut his stuff to a greater extent than he enjoyed in "Lord of the Rings." In virtually every scene, Mortensen takes on the role of Frank Hopkins, credited with winning a victory against the finest stallions that Arabian royalty can muster though truth to tell, historians have been unable to certify the authenticity of this grueling race, leading many to believe that they story is entirely a figment of Hopkins's creative imagination.

The real hero of this horse opera is cinematographer Shelly Johnson, who with the help of a special effects crew is able to rustle up an impressive sand storm that could have some out of Stephen Somers's "The Mummy," a last-minute escape from quicksand, a death in a bamboo trap, the seizure of a hare by a falcon, a dramatic Indiana-Jones style rescue of an Arabian damsel Jazira (Zuleikha Robinson), and a stirring ending of the 3,000 mile race wherein a horse wins by a nose. The obligatory sword fights are ho-hum and Omar Sharif has recently done far better work as "Monsieur Ibraham,"when he had a solid script.

Fiction or not, there would be a natural audience curiosity about the dynamics of this most unusual race. How do the characters get food and water, and how can any horse survive a race across sand that is the equivalent of a trip from New York to San Francisco? Metaphors abound Jazira's hiding behind a veil links with Hopkins's keeping his half-Indian birth in the closet, which in turns connects to the low status that Hidalgo enjoys because he's a mixed breed, which in turn hooks onto infidel Hopkins as much an outsider in Arabia as he felt in the States. Americans who consider themselves to the right of the political center may be proud to watch Hopkins show up the Middle-Easterners. After all Jazira, like all pretty women in that area of the world, would love to shuck her veil and only Frank, from a distinct and remote culture, is able to see the real Jazira.

Copyright 2004 Harvey Karten

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