Friday, October 14, 2011


Some people were just born to play cowboys; John Wayne, Clint Eastwood, and Sam Elliott have always looked and felt right at home in the old west and made careers out of it. Riding under the radar all this while has been Sam Shepard, who only a few years after portraying Frank James, dons the gunslinger gig again. This time, in the role of another legendary outlaw, Butch Cassidy.

Decades after his alleged death, Cassidy (Shepard) is living quietly in semi-retirement in South America. Deciding to pack his life savings and head home to America to meet his son for the first time, he loses his house, and money in a shootout. He encounters Eduardo (Eduardo Apodaca), a former miner who promises to reimburse Cassidy all of his money (and then some), if he will protect him from the gang he stole the moolah from. Cassidy agrees, and he and Eduardo become targets for gangs and lawmen.

At the mid-point of BLACKTHORN, Cassidy thoughtfully says that there are only two points in a man’s life; when he leaves home, and when he comes back. BLACKTHORNE can easily be summed up in that neat little line. The film has a simple plot on the surface; find the money, get the hell out of dodge alive. But it is really the story of Cassidy’s life, intertwined with a morality tale; Cassidy is constantly faced with moral and ethical choices as he tries to find a new life with his old one just not far enough behind.

But what really makes BLACKTHORN shine are the flashbacks. Smartly intercut between present-day scenes, we get to see Cassidy and the Sundance Kid in all of their youthful, enthusiastic-about-life glory. They serve a purpose in showing how Cassidy wound up alone in South America, and they offer a stark contrast to youth and old age.

Director Mateo Gil knows exactly what he has here, and knows what to do with it. The beautiful landscapes of the old west are brought to life in vivid photography; who knew such vast places still existed? He also manages to shoot (photographically) Shepard in some gorgeous frames; the shots look like something you want hanging on your wall…classic and beautiful. Outside of some few outstanding gunfights, the pacing is slow, but appropriate (after all, ALL westerns should have slow pacing). The score alternates from some epic and classic guitar picking to some present-day folk-tunes; with the latter never sounding out of place.

Shepard IS Butch Cassidy. No one else on this earth could have pulled this off with the intensity and maturity that a veteran actor has. There is constant wisdom, melancholy and toughness that he shows just from a single look. And who knew he could sing a ballad so well?

Shepard is a real treat to watch. Equally pleasing are the flashback scenes with a young Cassidy and Sundance (played by Nikolaj Coster-Waldau and Padraic Delaney, respectively). The two have instant chemistry and pull off some real magic on-screen; magic not seen since two guys named Redford and Newman had the roles.

The finale has a bit of a twist that really puts Cassidy in a moral bind, and is a perfect way to end out the ride. The final few minutes may feel like things are unresolved, but further thought reveals BLACKTHORN to be pushing a message of the gift of youth, and wisdom of old age. There are a lot of smarts to be found here. BLACKTHORN is one hell of a film.


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