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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Spanish filmmaker Mateo Gil has been constantly collaborating with
Alejandro Amenábar since his first film; Tesis (1996), the latter
subsequently putting the former in the shade. Thus this is only Gil's
second feature film. I haven't seen his first work, and apart from
Amenábar's films and little projects of his own, he also spent his time
trying to adapt the novel Pedro Páramo, which proved to be
unmanageable. And that brings us to Blackthorn, a film that must have
been on Gil's mind for quite some time, whether directly or indirectly.
In any case, it is a great film, so it makes me hope it's not too late
for Mateo Gil to develop a fruitful career as a full-length film
On the surface, Blackthorn doesn't tell anything new; it brings back the crepuscular atmosphere of the likes of Sam Peckinpah's westerns, with an iconic but worn-down figure as the main character. The man is getting old and wants to go back home; he's saved enough money for that, but he loses it when he runs into an adventurous and foolish Spaniard. So the two of them must now work together to get the money so that the old man can leave. The most original aspect of the film, again only at first sight, comes from the setting; this western takes place in the barren landscapes of Bolivia, the country where supposedly Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid got killed (see the last shot of George Roy Hill's 1969 movie). The film starts off from there, imagining that in fact Butch Cassidy never died.
So Sam Shepard plays a 50 or 60 something Butch Cassidy, now going by the name of Blackthorn. Shepard brings the right amount of wisdom, melancholia and roughness to the character. His performance is somewhat reminiscent, without going very far back in this comparison, of Jeff Bridges' in True Grit. They also have in common that they are both worthy of award recognition. Sam Shepard should pick up at least a handful of nominations for his touching, restrained yet aggressive turn, but considering the kind of film we're talking about, it probably won't happen. Shame. As for the rest of the cast, everybody's all right. Eduardo Noriega does an OK job at keeping up with Shepard's performance, and the other relatively fleshed-out character; Mackinley, is played by Stephen Rea with skill, despite the character in question being quite underused.
That brings me to the first and main flaw of the film; the way the flashbacks are structured is questionable, at least for the first few of them. Unless I'm wrong, there are six flashbacks throughout the movie, showing us the younger years of Butch Cassidy and his teaming up with the Sundance Kid and their lady friend Etta Place. The flashbacks have potential, and it's hard for me to say anything against flashbacks being used in film narrative (in my eyes they usually improve a film a lot), but said potential is not exploited that well, thus achieving sometimes confusing transitions between the present and the flashbacks (which is reinforced by the fact that these are not clearly differentiated, tonally speaking, from the present scenes) and lacking the lyricism (except for the last ones) they could've had. Regarding Mackinley, he only shows up in one of these flashbacks. So when we see him in the present, supposedly as a character with great relevance in the film and in Butch Cassidy's life, it doesn't work very well because we've only seen him for about a minute before that.
Blackthorn has a few other flaws, mostly in the form of missed opportunities, not to mention a somewhat unsatisfactory ending, but its qualities easily outshine them. Apart from Sam Shepard's terrific personification, the cinematography is a strong highlight (which isn't that surprising given the genre and setting), as well as the score, making a risky move by alternating between some epic music and country-like songs. Some of the dialogue is also memorable, and as far as the progression of the story goes, every plot detail is worked out competently. But what I liked most about the film was the nostalgia surrounding it, those letters Blackthorn writes to his kid, the mountains and the deserts where he quietly rides his horse, his memories, and his determination to go back home. In his words (approximately), "there are only two significant moments in a man's life; when he leaves home, and when he finally comes back."
Blackthorn is directed by Mateo Gil and written by Miguel Barros. It
stars Sam Shepard, Eduardo Noriega, Stephen Rea, Magaly Solier, Nikolaj
Costsr-Waldau, Padraic Delaney and Dominique McElligott. Music is by
Lucio Godoy and cinematography by Juan Ruiz Anchia.
It was believed that Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid both perished at the hands of the Bolivian army in 1908. Not so, for here is Butch Cassidy 20 years after the supposed event, alive and well and living in a secluded Bolivian village under the name James Blackthorn
What a lovely idea, that of one of history's most famous outlaws actually living longer than history led us to believe. OK, it's a scratchy premise but it allows for a quite elegiac film as we follow an older and grizzled Cassidy on another adventure. That adventure sees him team up with mischievous Spaniard Eduardo Apodaca, the latter of which tries to rob Blackthorn/Cassidy and then offers to repay the old outlaw with the proceeds from some hidden loot stashed away from a robbery. They set off and sure enough there is a posse on their tail, meaning the pair have to stay one step ahead of their pursuers, something which puts the twinkle back in Cassidy's eyes. But not all is as it seems and with flash backs showing Butch and Sundance in their prime (Waldau as the young Cassidy is an inspired choice as per likeness to Shepard), aided by the feisty Etta Place, this is a fully rounded tale.
The film quite simply is unhurried and respectful to the art of story telling and is rich with a lead characterisation of considerable substance (Shepard is wonderful, really gets to the soul of the character). Oh it is punctured by the odd action scene, even some humour is in the mix, there's even time for machismo and romantic threads of worth, but this beats a melancholy heart and is All the better for it. It also happens to be one of the most gorgeously photographed Westerns of the modern era. Filmed primarily on location in Bolivia, the landscapes be it the mountainous ranges or pin sharp salt flats are sublime, God's wonderful Earth in all its glory expertly realised by Anchia, marking this out as an absolute Blu-ray essential for Western fans big into location photography. While Godoy's musical score is pitch perfect for the tonal flows in the narrative.
There's the odd cliché, Rea is a touch wasted and some may decry the simplicity of plot, but this is thoughtful and awash with the love of the Western genre. If only for Shepard and the photography then this is worth it for Western fans, as it is it also calls out to those who like some emotional reflection in their Oaters. 8/10
Great outdoor cinematography highlight this darn good Western. The
story of an aging outlaw returning home is engaging and the morality
tale is delivered decisively. It has a number of dramatic details that
make it believable (taking a slice of meat off the dead horse and
roasting it on the campfire).
In all the expanse of the Bolivian landscape the humanity and characterizations are not lost and we care about Butch Cassidy, his lady love, and even the ex-Pinkerton who discovers, then assists our anti-hero on his way to settle the score.
All the elements of classic Westerns are at work here and the pace is methodical and maintained for a rhythmic ride. The gun-play is realistic and never stylized and the result is a new Western with an old West feel.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
For those unfamiliar with the original "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance
Kid" movie it is a worthwhile thing to rent it and watch this classic
high rated western of 1969 as well as to browse the annals on the
subject of the characters at the library. Blackthorn is a fitting 21st
century send-off for the legendary romantic Butch Cassidy, now assuming
the name of James Blackthorn. This western gives the audience its
money's worth in cinematography; because it actually takes place in
Bolivia where it was filmed, it also has an authentic feeling we need
to credit the producer for. You will feel the terrain challenging the
former rogue cowboy as a good western does. I was very pleased to have
picked the movie by chance and gotten such an unexpected experience.
Any 'westerns' lover will love this movie.
For a bit of author (I mean me) trivia: I often confuse the names of Sam Shepard, who plays the role Blackthorn as well as I could have hoped, with that of Sam Elliott, another actor who's cowboy roles are as legendary as Robert Duvall or Tommy Lee Jones. I've heard others make that same mistake which is why I thought it might be interesting to write this. It turns out, according to my research, Sam Elliott played in the original "Butch Cassidy and " (just a glorified extra part) and married Katherine Ross in 1984 who played the role of Etta Place in the original "Butch Cassidy and ".
In Blackthorn, we have a few flashback moments of Butch, Sundance and Etta as they trek through South America, to help the audience unfamiliar with the original key characters or for those like me who had forgotten most of the original film story, get that important background in perspective. The final adventure, or what may well be the final adventure of Cassidy/Blackthorn is one that provides many of the typical western story development, luck, good and bad, struggle against the elements to escape from the law and from other irate parties, unlikely friendships, shoot-outs and an ending that leaves the imagination ponder for hope as far as the fate of the hero goes. I suppose my recommendation does not come as a big surprise.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
"Blackthorn" is a fine addition to the genre of "elegaic Westerns," such as "High Lonesome," "The Wild Bunch," "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid," "McCabe and Mrs. Miller," and "The Shootist." An exotic touch is added by the fact that it's set amid the varied and spectacular scenery of Bolivia, which now joins Mexico and Australia as the setting for Westerns outside of the American West. Sam Shepard is excellent--and the essence of "grizzled." There is also some strong acting by Bolivian actresses and a soupçon of social consciousness in the plot. Flashbacks add to the richness of the film but could have been shot in a more lyrical manner to differentiate them more from the main plot. In conclusion: More movies of this quality, please!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The Legend of Butch Cassidy can be compared to that of Robin Hood.
Steal from the rich, give to the poor. Butch Cassidy is closer to us in
time than Robin Hood, his descendants are known to us and we do not
live in a feudal but in a capitalist system, just like Butch. The
legend Butch is real, whereas Robin is closer to King Arthur and
Blackthorn makes us sympathize with the figure of a hunted criminal, Butch Cassidy having survived the ambush, living in old age of his humble farm in Bolivia. The death of his and his deceased comrade's love draws him home to the United States. He says farewell to his Bolivian lover, takes all his booty money from the bank and gets back into the saddle for his last long ride. Before our hero crosses the Bolivian border, his plan is interrupted by another criminal, who is being hunted for stealing money from a Bolivian mine. He teams up with the young robber, seeing in him his younger self or rather his dead brother in arms: the Sundance Kid. All looks good, until the terrible truth comes out. The young robber stole from a collective of families that bought the run down mine for the people from the coorparation.
Butch Cassidy never stole from the poor so the myth tells us, he fought the law, the system. In this story he is being confronted by a different kind of criminal. One that does not hesitate to exploit the trust and need of the poor to take what little they have.
For this alone I would give the movie ten stars. It is not 50's Western it is not Italo, Action fans beware. This is thoughtful post- Unforgiven. Blackthorne has everything my beloved genre demands: great sorytelling, amazing photography of country, desperados, indians, colt revolvers, cartridges, liquor, smoking and riding. It even has chewing of coca leaves. A statement, knowing our drug war.
Very good movie, even for people who do not like the genre.
Blackthorn (Dir. Mateo Gil, 2012) is what I'd like to describe as a
"real western". It is full of shootouts, lost treasures and cinematic
vistas. I have always been a western fan and whenever a new western is
made I make a huge effort to catch it on release. Unfortunately
Blackthorn isn't on in many cinemas and so many of you will have to
wait for it on DVD/Blu-ray at the beginning of June.
Blackthorn is centred on a retired Butch Cassidy, who now goes by the name James Blackthorn after he and the Sundance Kid narrowly escaped death in Bolivia. One of the only downsides about this film is the fact that Paul Newman died four years before its creation and therefore couldn't revive his role as Butch Cassidy. But Sam Shepard embraces the role of Butch Cassidy and provides a strong and driven protagonist for the film. The character Eduardo Apodaca (Eduardo Noriega) puts it best when he says "you're a damn legend". As that is what Butch Cassidy is, a legend, and it was only a matter of time before cinema decided to embrace his presence once again for another fantastic western.
Both Shepard and Noriega are implausible in their roles, complimented with a sturdy performance of a washed up pinkerton by Stephen Rea. But an actor who hasn't had nearly enough recognition within cinema is Nikolaj Coaster-Waldau, who a lot of you will recognise from the popular television series, Game of Thrones (2011). His presence in Blackthorn not only reinforces the film, as he plays a young Butch Cassidy, but he also bears great similarity to Shepard conveniently. Through the use of flashbacks we see how Butch ends up in Bolivia and how his partner Sundance is no longer with him. These flashbacks also aid in fortifying the attachment the audience has with the protagonist, James Blackthorn.
Everyone will notice when watching Blackthorn that it fantastically utilises on-location shooting. The open vistas, forested valleys and Bolivian villages create a strong sense of verisimilitude while also making it very clear how much bigger the world is than the two protagonists. Another thing this film explores is how to cope with old age. As it is clear that perhaps Butch has lived such an exciting life and longs to return to it before he eventually dies. But after experiencing this freedom will he yearn for a quieter life with his long-lost "nephew"?
This film is full of everything I look for when watching a western. The only problem I had with it was its length; it almost feels like three, thirty minute long episodes that have been pasted together to create a movie. After the first thirty minutes the narrative has progressed a great deal, there has even been an acoustic cover by Shepard of "Sam Hall". The flashback scenes in Blackthorn are imperative to the plot, as they hold the film together and without them the film would have a much less gripping story.
Sam Sheppard at his best. I love westerns and this idea and the way it was played out and presented kept me interested from beginning to end. It was SS movie. His presence on screen is bigger than life. He was brilliant in his interpretation of the infamous Butch Cassidy and was equal to Paul Newmans own. The back ground view of the terrain was equally the star and breath taking.I am a horse-person and always look at way actors ride. Sam appears to have lived in the saddle as the character he portrayed would have. Serious movie for serious viewers who want to see a western the way it should be made. Thanks to all who had a hand in this movie. Well done.
"One day I woke up and found myself alone. Seemed like everyone I knew
was dead or in jail, they thought I was dead too." After writing for
years to her son, James Blackthorn (Shepherd) hears about Etta's death.
Wanting to see his home one last time he heads out. When he meets a
young robber on the trail he forms a type of friendship. The young
robber begins to realize that the old man is not who he says he is, he
may be riding with Butch Cassidy. This is one of the best westerns to
come out in the last few years (along with "Meek's Cutoff) and is that
way for one reason. Sam Shepherd is fantastic in this role. Much like
Sam Elliot, Shepherd is born to be in westerns. A mix of present day
and flashback scenes make this movie riveting and you are questioning
if he is really Butch or not. Weather you are a fan of westerns or not
this is one movie that you should watch. Overall, one of, if not the
best westerns to come out in the last 5 years. Great acting by Shepherd
helps. I give it a B+.
*Also try - Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid & Meek's Cutoff
I had heard about this film some time ago & the storyline for me was a
Why name a film after an alias? Butch Cassidy is probably the most recognizable name in Western film history that by obfuscating the hero's identity & rewriting cinema history only contorts what the film's story should be.
I think this is probably one of the finest westerns to be made in some time along w/Ed Harris' Appaloosa which treat the Western as is should be; a true American art form.
What holds my praise back a bit are the various flashbacks which kinda rewrite what we know of Butch's adventures only to justify character shadings which if dropped would've still have been appreciated via Sam Shepherd's great performance.
Not a total miss & definitely worth a view.
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