Blackthorn

7 Nov

Title: Blackthorn
Year: 2011
Director: Mateo Gil
Writer: Miguel Barros
Starring: Sam Shepard, Eduardo Noriega, Stephen Rea, Magaly Solier
MPAA Rating: R, violence and language
Runtime: 98 min
Major Awards: –
IMDb Rating: 6.9
Rotten Tomatoes: 70%

The premise for Blackthorn I thought was kind of cool, it proposed the story that Butch Cassidy didn’t really die in that supposed stand-off he and the Sundance Kid had with the Bolivian military over a century ago but that he survived and changed his name to James Blackthorn to live out his days in a quiet Bolivian village. But it gets to the point in which Butch Cassidy can’t take it any more, as he wants to see his family again, and decides he must put an end to his exile and return home, but, of course, everything won’t go according to plan and his life which had been calm for the past years is injected with the kind of action he hadn’t seen for quite some time. So yeah, that premise had me intrigued to see how this film would pan out. It also starred Magaly Solier as the woman Butch has a casual relationship with,  and she’s an actress from Perú who starred in the country’s only Oscar-nominated film to date, The Milk of Sorrow, so I was curious to see how a fellow Peruvian would fare in an American film.

It’s obviously tricky territory for a film to go into, I mean, the version of Butch Cassidy we all know and adore is the one played by Paul Newman in the classic 1969 film and we know he dies by the end of the movie (that’s not a spoiler, if you haven’t seen that film by now it’s all on you). So to present such a seminal character of film history and to go against what his most famous screen appearance dictated was certainly a bold move. But that’s what we get in this film, but what happens to Butch is that just as he withdrew every cent from the bank and got on his horse to try and get home, he encounters a young criminal hellbent on stealing his horse, he eventually avoids the thief but in the process his horse gallops away with all his money. Now, he has to team up with the bandit and help him retrieve a large sum of money he recently stole and then hid in exchange for half the payload. So that means going back to the life of crime and finding an unlikely new partner in crime.

So you kind of know how this is all going to turn out, because most of the modern westerns we get today are just about contemplating the past and they all move with kind of the same intentions in one way or the other, and even though Blackthorn doesn’t avoid that label and does feel kind of shallow at times, it has this seriously wicked cool look to it that makes totally worth watching. I really do dig it when movies are so effectively stylized as this one was, because while the film remains this kind of typical “one final job” movie set in a modern western, at least it looks really good while providing us with the hypothesis of an old Butch Cassidy who at first seems pissed off about having to go back to a life of crime, but who you can’t help detect a glimmer of joy in him as he’s back to doing what he always did best.

Just don’t think that director Mateo Gil, best known for writing the amazing Spanish films Mar Adentro and Abre Los Ojos, both directed by Alejandro Amenábar, is going to give you a full-on western actioneer kind of film. Because, while there indeed are some shoot-outs and horseback chases, this one’s really more like those modern westerns I talked about in the sense that it’s actually kind of slow and takes it’s time delivering the big stuff, instead just spending most of its ninety-eight minutes in some sort of contemplation mode, meditating on the life of its characters more than actually showing it being lived. And I’m not saying that’s a bad thing, by the way, not at all, I actually thought that those quiet moments were the best parts about Blackthorn and that when it started revving up, like with the introduction of Stephen Rea’s character, the results weren’t as amazing as when it was surely held in that more composed kind of state.

But the thing is that Blackthorn is as good as it ultimately is because of Sam Shepard’s performance in the title role. The movie relies on him quite a lot and he never once disappoints, it’s a really powerful performance in which he manages to show both the devilish ways of Butch Cassidy and how they have rusted down now that he’s old and in exile, the fact that he can still be quite intimidating shows you he once was someone great, but his cracked and tired voice show that that’s not someone he’s been for quite some time. And that’s ultimately why I’ll recommend Blackthorn, for Mr. Shepard’s performance, I think he really shows all the layers to Butch Cassidy, or James Blackthorn, however you want to call him, and makes this film a modern western that holds well to its classic style and character.

Grade: B

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