Posted April 10, 2012 by Alex Moss Editor in B
 
 

Blackthorn


It’s the 1920s and aging gringo rancher James Blackthorn (Sam Shepard) is eking out a living raising horses in a sleepy corner of Bolivia.

It’s the 1920s and aging
gringo rancher James Blackthorn (
Sam Shepard) is eking
out a living raising horses in a sleepy corner of Bolivia.
Homesick and restless, he’s not getting
any younger and is tired of living in exile, wants to see the U.S. again and to
meet his nephew (maybe son?) before he dies.

Selling everything and withdrawing all his money from the bank,
Blackthorn begins the long ride North but is waylaid by young Spanish thief
Eduardo (Eduardo Noriega), losing
everything in the process.
Flat-broke, Blackthorn’s forced to join forces with the young outlaw
who’s barely a step ahead of the posse that’s hunting him. He’s just robbed a tin mine owned by a
despotic local landowner whose hired guns are hot on his heels. Luckily, the elderly Blackthorn knows a
thing or two about staying ahead of the law; he’s actually the legendary Butch Cassidy and he may just have one
last hard ride in him…

While that defiant last stand against the Bolivian Army and the
climactic final freeze frame at the end of Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid helped cement the
romantic notion of Butch and Sundance as essentially good-natured desperadoes
who’d lived beyond their times, the jury’s always been out on what actually
became of the two outlaws ever since with most historians convinced that the
real Butch didn’t die in a hail of bullets in 1908 but of old age after a long,
full life.

Over the years the likes of Richard
Patterson
’s exhaustive biography, Larry
Pointer
’s In Search Of Butch
Cassidy
, Anne MeadowsDigging Up Butch And Sundance and Eamonn O’Neill’s Outlaws have all gone in search
of the truth and, while none have found it, they found plenty of rumours with
stories of Butch living anonymously in South America, returning to Utah in a
Model T Ford to visit his family or moving to Washington, marrying an old
girlfriend and publishing his life story while posing as ‘childhood friend’ William
T. Phillips
. The truth of these rumours will
probably never be proved or disproved but one thing’s for sure; they’re all a
lot more interesting than the story first-time director Mateo Gil has chosen to tell.

Imagining
Cassidy as a stoic, solitary Sam Shepard, looking as grizzled as Kris Kristofferson after a 6-month bender,
sitting out his exile in a remote, untouched corner of Bolivia, Gil’s film
looks great, with the Bolivian vistas simply stunning, and Shepard is as
dependable as ever as Cassidy but the story lacks any real spark. Nothing happens you aren’t expecting,
that you haven’t seen before. It’s
an elegiac enough take on the death of the Western outlaw, killed off by
progress, but then, that’s what the original was about. Blackthorn
lacks the fun and romance of Butch
Cassidy And The Sundance Kid
, it’s script doesn’t sing the way William Goldman’s did and it’s vision
of the death of gunfighter, superseded by capitalism and industrialisation is
neither as savage nor as political as that other seminal take on the Cassidy
story, Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch.

Referencing
George Roy Hill’s earlier film in
nostalgic flashbacks featuring Nikolaj
Coster-Waldau
as Butch, Padraic
Delaney
as Sundance, Dominique
McElligot
as Etta Place and Stephen
Rea
as the dogged Pinkerton on their trail was also probably a mistake. These scenes are fun and playful; they
remind you how good the original film was. You want to see more of Coster-Waldau’s Butch and you want
to see a lot more of McElligott’s emancipated, spirited Etta. So long relegated by history and
culture to the role of desperado’s moll, here she’s a dangerous equal partner
as handy and deadly with a gun as the boys and, it’s hinted, quite possibly the
brains of the operation. She’s
only in about three scenes but Irish actress McElligott (soon to be seen in TV
Western drama Hell On Wheels) pretty
much makes off with the film.

Shepard
is good as the elderly Butch but there’s really little for him to do. His Butch mopes a bit, reminisces and
jumps at the chance of a last adventure but there’s no real suggestion of the
toll his reclusive, forced exile has taken on him or even that time has
passed. He knows nothing of the
outside world, the politics and events of his adopted country; it’s as if he’s
been in stasis for twenty years.
We learn nothing of what his lifestyle has cost him, the consequences of
his actions, his culpability in the death of his friend or even just why he’s
so miserable. His character
doesn’t ring true, doesn’t chime with the forward-thinking outlaw we’re
familiar with from history and from other films and books.

The
real Butch was a grandiose schemer, obsessed with technology and progress. Shepard’s Butch has been sitting on his
backside in the jungle for twenty years, hiding from the world. Stephen
Rea
’s also good as the almost Graham Greene-inspired Pinkerton agent who
chased the outlaws to Bolivia and whose failure to catch them led to him being
a haunted drunk, just another old gringo living out his retirement in the sun
while Eduardo Noriega’s young engineer-turned-thief is too obviously painted as
a duplicitous nogoodnik from the start to really invest in.

Moody,
handsome and well-acted, Blackthorn
falls well short of being the revisionist Western it thinks it is, lacking the
weight of Eastwood’s Unforgiven or Andrew Dominick’s beautiful, mournful The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. Blackthorn feels like a film with
something to say that’s simply forgot what it was talking about
mid-conversation.


Alex Moss Editor

 
Alex Moss’ obsession with film began the moment he witnessed the Alien burst forth from John Hurt’s stomach. It was perhaps ill-advised to witness this aged 6 but much like the beast within Hurt, he became infected by a parasite called ‘Movies’. Rarely away from his computer or a big screen, as he muses on Cinematic Deities, Alex is “more machine now than man. His mind is twisted and evil”. Email: alex.moss@filmjuice.com