LITTLE ROCK In Spanish director Mateo Gil’s Blackthorn, a promising premise is undone by uninspired, by-the-numbers filmmaking and the failure of charisma on the part of its key actors. This is all the more disappointing because Gil - an untested director but the writer of The Sea Inside and Open Your Eyes (and its lesser Hollywood remake Vanilla Sky) - seems to have a solid handle on the technical aspects of filmmaking.
And the script - which picks up on the long-rumored and probably unprovable theory Butch Cassidy was not killed along with his desperado partner the Sundance Kid by the Bolivian army in a shootout in 1908, but survived to be an old gringo quietly biding his time in a rural village - is a solid (if predictable) framework over which one could drape an atmospheric revisionist Western.
Yet the casting of Sam Shepard in the central role - which seems inspired at first blush - turns out to be nearly a disaster. In part, this may be because Shepard’s Butch (who has assumed the alias James Blackthorn in retirement) seems obviously derivative of the Rooster Cogburn character Jeff Bridges played in True Grit, albeit without that character’s touch of soul. Somehow Shepard’s Butch comes across as so mean and callous (which he may well have been in real life) that we’re almost happy when the scene shifts to 20 years before, when Butch’s is played by Danish actor Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (Blackhawk Down, Game of Thrones).
But Coster-Waldau evinces so little charisma in this role that we feel we switched channels, that we’ve moved down the dial from a sumptuous (ifdull) art house movie to the sort of made-for-TV Western that nearly murdered the genre. Then we’re back to the land of long, dull, reddening sunsets and Shepard-Butch abusing a would-be good thief railroad engineer played by the conventionally handsome Eduardo Noriega.
It seems that the homesick Butch, who has decided to finally return home to the States after years in exile, is given a chance to pull one final, extraordinary job. (That’s not just the creaking of his saddle you hear.)
That said, I’m probably being a little harder on Blackthorn than is strictly necessary, because I was relatively excited about seeing it. That disappointment ought to have been somewhat mitigated by a fine and witty performance by Stephen Rea as the alcoholic Pinkerton man who has been chasing our anti-hero for all these years and Gil’s admittedly effective use of the wild and varied Bolivian countryside.
Sam Shepard, Eduardo Noriega, Stephen Rea, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Padraic Delaney, Dominique McElligott, Magaly Solier
R, for language and violence
MovieStyle, Pages 38 on 10/28/2011
Print Headline: REVIEW