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I don't think I will ever understand the disappointing backlash against
this film. What I witnessed was not your typical "western" film full of
passionate love and implausible events. Instead, what I saw was
beautifully captured images, powerful acting by Damon and Thomas, a
story that twisted further down a darkened rabbit hole than I was
expecting, and this challenging character study that gave us a brief
insight to a world that will never be seen by our eyes again. This was
not the romantic film that it was marketed as, this was not the
adventure that it was marketed as, but instead it was the story of one
character and the tribulations that effect him on his journey into the
real world. It is the story of a very compassionate man that sees the
honest darkness of those around him and must face the consequences of
his actions. It showcases amazing acting that may be a bit disturbing
for the unfamiliar eye, but to me was nothing short of brilliant. Billy
Bob successfully adapted the story from the page, but it was not the
film that he wanted. Miramax butchered this film in the marketing
aspect, which ultimately hurt it overall. I will never understand why
this did not receive the praise it should have, but will never be
ashamed to bring it out for friends and family to enjoy. This film was
like finding a dollar in the couch, an unexpected surprise that keeps a
smile on your face the rest of the day.
I have read several reviews that just completely dismantle Damon's acting in this film. While his accent does fade in and out randomly, it is the way that he carries himself and reacts to the situations that unfold before him that really showcase the true acting ability of this star. While I do not think that Bennifer has made the best choices to challenge his career, Damon continually proves that he has the ability to be a force in Hollywood. This film alone proves it. He built this beautiful chemistry between him and Cruz that teetered on fear and sorrow. He showed his compassion towards Blevins and Lacey continually throughout the film showing that his idea of friendship was stronger than anyone expected. His strength and will shined brightly when he was ultimately faced with death. These are all moments where other actors would have cheapened it up and tried to fake the audience instead of showing the truth. I thought Damon showed us honesty, he showed us a part of him that I was not expecting. If you couldn't tell already, he really impressed me. But yet so did everyone else in this film. I honestly thought that the kid from Sling Blade, Lucas Black, would never work again, and I was skeptical of him in this film, but he was exceptional. He took us away from his character in Sling Blade and built a whole new name for himself. He took the challenges of this character and pushed them out of the television. The same can be said for Henry Thomas that continues to impress me with his ability to capture his moments and make them so real. Finally, Billy Bob did a great job of casting the rest of this film to bring the images and feelings of the time period to light. I could feel the dusty world of Texas and Mexico through the smaller characters that he cast.
Speaking of Billy Bob, could we not agree that these actors wouldn't have been half as good if it were not for the amazing direction behind the camera. I wish that I could have seen his version of the film instead of the choppy Miramax version. He has a very gifted eye, and while sometimes he takes roles that I think blur that eye, he always seems to rebound with a very riveting performance. He is constantly experimenting with genres and styles, and this film shows that he can break traditional boundaries. The images that he captured on film help create this darkness that surrounded our main characters. The scene with the thunderstorm I thought was beautiful, as was the rolling Mexican landscape. He places us into the film as more than just observers, and that is a sign of a great director.
Finally, I would like to pose the question of why Grady was so infatuated with Blevins? There were several moments during the film where he could have simply walked away from the boy, and Lacey even suggested it continually, but they always stayed with him. I realize that a main reason may be to develop the plot, but I think there was a more symbolic meaning. I feel that Damon connected with the boy because they had a kindred spirit. Damon was this passive, controlled character that never really understood himself until later on in the film, while Blevins was this wild-hair that never controlled himself or thought about his decisions. It was as if they were polar opposites, but yet they were perfectly matched. I think Damon liked him because it was what he aspired to be. I sometimes felt that the secondary characters were not real, and sometimes they were just imaginary images of what Damon wanted himself to be more like. This thought created a much darker picture for me that forced this film to go deeper into my mind and be more enjoyable than I thought.
Overall, I really liked this film. While others will definitely disagree, I thought that the acting, story, and especially the direction deserved more attention that what was handed to it.
Grade: ***** out of *****
Cormac McCarthy's novel, All The Pretty Horses, the first part of his breath-taking Border Trilogy, is one of the most perfect source materials ever written. Add to this the impressive line-up of talent (Ted Tally adapting, Thornton directing, Matt Damon, back when he was a hot property the first time around, starring) assembled for the film version and it's fair to say my expectations were raised sky high. When the film came out it was buried by the distributor. I managed to catch it in the one week it played at a single cinema in Edinburgh and I would be lying if I didn't admit that the whole experience was a crushing disappointment. It wasn't that the film makers had ballsed the whole thing up, no it was much more frustrating than that. You could tell that somewhere in that film there was a masterpiece straining to get out. Individual sequences impressed but the whole thing moved at such a frenzied pace that the main characters' journey, a true rite of passage in the novel, had become damagingly truncated. The result was underwhelming but at the same time as been annoyed at the film I could tell it wasn't the film makers' fault. It was all too apparent that this was a great film that had had it's guts, it's heart, it's very essence, chopped out of it by a greedy distributor trying to market the film as some kind of Titanic / Young Guns cross over. Guess what, this movie was never going to appeal to the teeny boppers. If only the studio could have realized that and been true to the property they acquired in the first place. My suspicions were confirmed recently when I read an article wherein Matt Damon, a fine actor despite the criticism, claimed that Billy Bob Thornton's integral cut of the movie is the best he's ever been involved in. I don't know about you but that makes me want to see it. Apparently the studio are willing to release this extended cut on DVD (all revenue streams reach the ocean eventually) but Thornton won't settle for anything less than a full cinematic re-release. I can't say I blame him, I get the impression his film deserves at least that much. So for now I can't recommend this film, check out the novel instead and then the rest of Cormac McCarthy's back catalogue. But let's hope that in the not too distant future this film finally gets the treatment I suspect it deserves.
This is a hard film to pin down...given the spoon-fed plots we've all
conditioned to follow. It's sold as a love story, but that's one small
in the film's long, dusty road. If I had to classify it in conventional
terms, I'd put it somewhere between "coming of age" and an "american
odyssey." It's spread out and slowly told--that's the nature of the
But to hell with all that.
I love this film. It's haunting. It's like putting on your favorite old pair of dusty old boots with their third soles and fifth heels, and kicking your feet up onto a hitching rail while you're waiting for the day to cool off. This is the story of John Grady Cole's serious loss of innocence. He is a stoic, simple, gentle, moral, responsible, sensible, well-mannered young Texan dropped into some extreme circumstances where his character is tested and proven. The crafting of the film appears to be a direct extension of his character. From Barry Markowitz' big-sky, muted-color, wide-open, slowly-moving cinematography, Clark Hunter's simple yet brilliant production design, to Sally Menke's minimalist editing, all elements of this film combine to reflect the purity, simplicity and grace of it's protagonist. The create a purely american western MOOD, and I love the way this film feels when I watch it.
I love Matt Damon's Texas drawl. Hell, I love EVERYONE'S Texas drawl in this film. I love the unspoken, little-expressed love between his character and Henry Thomas' character, Lacy Rawlins. I love Lucas Black's rough-edged teenager in big trouble, and how he desperately reverts to his recently-lost childhood when he's being dragged off to certain death. I love how Billy Bob Thornton takes his time telling this tale...that's the way his main characters approach everything...patiently. I love seeing two friends riding together toward who-knows-what in the middle of a vast wilderness. I love how even when John Grady Cole is enraged, he's still polite and rational. I just love the RICHNESS of this film--you can TASTE the cider when these guys pull over to buy a drink. You can TASTE the beans they eat in prison. You can SMELL the dust and the sage everywhere. You can FEEL how sore they are after 4 days of breaking horses. I even love the way "John Grady Cole" sounds when they say it.
I'm trying to put my finger on it, but I can't...this film's like a glass of wonderful wine you weren't expecting.
But I saved the best for last: the most magnificent thing about "All the Pretty Horses," the force that binds all the rich, disparate pleasures of watching this film together, and expresses the subdued, pure emotions of it's protagonist, is Marty Stuart's exquisite score. It's warm like old wood and worn leather...it's part mariachi, part spanish, part classic western film score, part bluegrass, but it is PERFECT FOR THIS FILM. It's constructed entirely around a simple, graceful phrase on a spanish guitar (obviously a representation of the contents of John Grady Cole's pure Texas heart) I'm not even going to try to express any more about how great I think it is...I'll just get more frustrated than I already am. Needless to say, I listen to it again and again and again.
I just happen to love this movie. I'm more surprised than anyone else. I guess you could say, "I'm plum stuck on it--and I don't give too hoots in a holler what the rest of y'all might think about it neither."
This is an excellent, epic western saga about two Texans who wind up in
Mexico and all the trials and tribulations they go through, most of
which are fascinating. I've watched this film several times and it gets
better and better with each viewing. The acting, storytelling and
magnificent photography all made it a treasure of a film....and a very
underrated movie. It's easy to get very involved in this haunting tale.
Those two lead guys are played by Matt Damon ("John Grady Cole") and Henry Thomas ("Lacey Rawlins.") Along the way they are joined by the most interesting character of all of them: "Jimmy Blevins," played by Lucas Black. Jimmy is a nice kid but he's big-time trouble. His haunting face in his last scene is memorable.
Penelope Cruz is the attractive love interest, surrounded by a protective Mexican family. That family, mainly a father and aunt, were really enjoyable to watch, too, and I wish they had bigger roles in here.
Not only is the acting good and photography stunning, the soundtrack with Spanish music is outstanding. I've read they actually filmed this for a four- hour movie. Man, I'd love to see that.
The only things I didn't care for were Thomas' blasphemous mouth and a couple of unpleasant scenes where the innocent lead characters are accused of things they didn't do and suffer because of it.
This really isn't an action movie, but much more of a drama and it's excellent storytelling. It also has narration from Damon, who is good at that sort of thing. It's just a powerful movie with a lot of good things to offer. If you like good stories, don't pass this up.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
What sets this lovely film apart is that it hasn't been dumbed down to
a simple formula. I looked up a number of reviews for this picture and
found many of them gave it mediocre ratings, complaining it wasn't a
good western, adventure flick or romantic film. They are correct, it
isn't; thankfully because it isn't suppose to be. These reviewers have
become benumbed by Hollywood's usual coarse handling, and misunderstand
the subtly of this picture, ironically their criticism is praise.
The film isn't a Western, it uses the West as a setting to develop its two main themes, the first a celebration of being young and open to the vast possibilities of life, of diving in over your head. The second theme is commitment, what does it mean to be committed to the land, to a way of life, to family, to a buddy, to your word? How does commitment in one area effect your commitments in other areas? minor spoiler The film begins with two young men in west Texas laying on their backs, starring up at the stars and talking about the possibilities of life. John Grady Cole is about to head out for Mexico to look for work on a giant cattle spread, the kind that have largely faded from the American landscape, but still exist across the Rio Grande and he wants his buddy, Lacey Rawlins, to come along.
Personal difficulties add impetis to their fantasy and the two young men head south on horseback, where they meet up with a younger boy on the trail, Jimmy Blevins, full of spit and vinegar, but not much sense. Lacey immediately suspects Blevins is trouble, the John Grady is more friendly and sympathetic than wise, and they invite this accident waiting to happen to join them, who eventually gets himself and them in far more trouble than any of them are able to handle.
For those viewers who are looking for another quick action or romance fix, they will be seriously disappointed, but for someone, perhaps more literarily oriented, reflective about the meaning of life, this film is a delight.
Director Billy Bob Thornton fills the screen with awesome scenery and a hard hitting drama about two young cowboys from San Angelo, Texas meeting up with another young horseman and coming face to face with life altering situations in and out of a Mexican prison. Friendship stays strong to the bitter end. And love proves to be stronger than life itself. Matt Damon, Henry Thomas and Lucas Black are the hard luck cowpokes. Damon falls in love with Penelope Cruz and provides some steamy love scenes. There is more drama than action in this western, but you should find it very entertaining. Damon and Black are the most impressive characters in this well-made movie.
I really wanted to love this film and from the opening scenes to the last third I really did like this film. I love surreal films as much as the next guy, but this film seems like it was made by Oliver Stone on Valium. The film is really slow, now that can be a good thing, but in this case the pace just keeps getting slower and slower. I heard that Thornton's original cut ran almost four hours, it seems that the film has a whole other film missing from it. I didn't read the novel and I'm guessing that I should have read the novel because I couldn't figure this film out for the life of me. When it was all over I felt empty. The performances are all great, I especially liked Lucas Black in the role of Blevins. Matt Damon and Henry Thomas are both very good in their roles and this is first movie Penelope Cruz has appeared in where I could see that she has real talent and isn't just another pretty face. I loved the cinematography, the outdoor landscapes were beautiful. The film has all the flavor and no real substance. I am torn with this film, I wanted to love it so bad. Even great film makers slip every now and then.
After seeing Matt Damon carrying "The Rainmaker" I sat up and became a real fan of the actor. In that movie he impressed me greatly. I decided to see what was he doing next. I read where he was slated to star in All the Pretty Hourses so I got a copy of the book to see what it was all about. I liked what I read and was looking forward to see Matt Damon in the effort. When I read where Billy Bob Thornton was to direct I became ecstatic, I remembered his acting and directing in Sling Blade. Later, I read where there was trouble with the length of All The Pretty Horses at the producer threatened to cut the movie. Mr Thornton's version ran almost 4 hours, the released version to theaters was 117 minutes. Of course I went to see the movie and could see that it should have been longer. Any movie buff could see that. What perplexes me is how studios and produces can contract certain directors and then butcher their completed work. Sergio Leone's Once Upon A Time in America suffered a humiliation when the studio decided to cut his film drastically; it lost it's meaning, and money. Later, the DVD restored version, 225 minutes, came out and was instantly received by customers. Thank God David O. Selznick stuck to his guns with Gone With The Wind. And look at how much money that! made. Like some others I hope that some one one day will be able to assemble the 4 hour version of All The Pretty Horses so that those of us who love movies can at least see what we've missed. I think we deserve to judge the movie for ourselves. Who knows, we might be missing a masterpiece.
From Cormac McCarthy's novel about young man in 1949 Texas leaving the family ranch for a life in Mexico, and winding up in hot water. Despite mystical undermining (which, presumably, is what director/co-producer Billy Bob Thornton brought to the table), film has a distracting 'formula' feel: two-parts western, one-part forbidden romance, and one-part prison picture. None of it gels, simply because the screenwriter (Ted Tally, of all people) and Thornton are trying for the kind of heavy, romantic movie-western style popular 40 years ago, and yet they do not possess the subtle qualities to make this genre successful for them. Matt Damon frequently flashes his shy/self-conscious movie-star smile, but he's so clean and bland and laid-back, he's practically non-existent on the screen. Penelope Cruz, as his forbidden flame, is better, but the other performers are less charismatic, and the story has no center--it just rambles around. *1/2 from ****
ALL THE PRETTY HORSES is quite effective, though there are some serious
gaping holes in the story. The story and characters insist that John Cole
and Alejandra have fallen in love; we only get to see a swift montage of
sex-making, which is not the same thing at all. Damon made me believe
John was in love through the sheer force of his acting, but the audience
needed to be courted along in this romance. Also, Lacey Rawlins at one
point crucially (suicidally?) antagonizes a fellow in prison, and we have
idea what bad blood has been brewing between these two.
There are stories about how Thornton's film was first cut at four hours, then the director agreed to deliver a three hour version. The financing studio balked at the length and sold it off to Miramax, who contractually required a cut no longer than two and a quarter hours. What is left runs 117 minutes. What happened? Twenty minutes would have certainly helped smooth out the few rough spots, and a two-and-a-half hour or three hour movie might have been some sort of masterpiece. As it is, some of the epic sweep is contained and the film remains remarkably moving, but may wind up ultimately not finding its commercial or artistic audience because of the compromises. A shame.
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