All the Pretty Horses

dir Billy Bob Thornton
scr Ted Tally
with Matt Damon, Henry Thomas, Penelope Cruz, Lucas Black, Ruben Blades, Miriam Colon, Julio Oscar Mechoso, Lonnie Rodriguez, Matthew E Montoya, Bruce Dern, Robert Patrick, Sam Shepard
release US 25.Dec.00; UK 25.May.01
Miramax-Columbia 00/US 2h10 3 out of 5 stars
A big, stunningly gorgeous film based on Cormac McCarthy's beloved bestseller, this film was shamefully ignored by the Oscars. Even if there are problems with the story, it's still so beautifully made--editing, costumes, music, sound and especially Barry Markowitz's cinematography--that it deserved much more recognition. The story is both epic journey and intimate self-discovery as Grady (Damon) and his pal Rawlins (Thomas) get out of 1949 Texas in search of real cowboy country ... in Mexico. Along the way they pick up the teenaged Blevins (Black), with more than a few secrets up his sleeve and an uncanny ability to get our two heroes in trouble. But they manage to ditch him and continue to a sprawling hacienda run by a wealthy businessman (Blades) who happens to have a piping-hot daughter (Cruz) who falls for Grady, against everyone's wishes. Then Blevins' wrongdoings come back to haunt them in a big way.

Basically, this is about how Grady grows up and discovers his own untapped inner resources, and as such it's a very nicely observed story anchored securely by Damon's introspective, subtle performance. Thomas is also a standout, with an equally transparent turn as a hulky tough guy with a tender centre. Cruz is, as expected, absolutely gorgeous, and she plays the serious scenes very well, most notably the conflicts between Alejandra and her family. But here's where the plot starts to let the story down: We never feel the attraction between Grady and Alejandra, why they're willing to risk so much ... and then why they make certain decisions later on. And there are a couple of other undefined plot turns that don't resonate truthfully (perhaps due to editing, trouble adapting a novel's internal thoughts, whatever). There's still so much here to appreciate--and to move us--that this is well worth seeing. Thornton gives the film so much beauty and heart that we can almost forgive its flaws. It's just a pity the story itself doesn't hold together well enough to take us along on the journey too.
themes, violence cert 15 23.Feb.01

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John Lea, Hampshire: 4/5 "Brilliant, true to life, funny, sad, with exciting action."
2001 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall