All the Pretty Horses is just a pretty-good movie.
Thursday, January 4, 2001
This fairly faithful reworking of the novel, however, is not necessarily a good thing. The film seems to lack inspiration, and rarely does any residue from the images or characters emerge from the screen to amble, like some drifting tumbleweed, through our minds.
Of course, this film production should come with a disclaimer: Thornton''s first cut was rumored to run about four hours, but following some release delays, changes in distributors, and recuts, this final, director-sanctioned version comes in at just under two hours. Some of what''s missing is clear-a section that takes place in a Mexican prison seems especially truncated-but other sections are so vague and underdeveloped that you have to suspect that additional minutes would make matters worse, rather than better. Take, for example, the relationship between Matt Damon''s John Grady Cole and Penelope Cruz''s Alejandra Rocha.
The romance comes across as a tepid abstraction, less a full-bodied love affair than someone''s poetic idea of a love affair. Perhaps it''s a lack of that ineffable thing called "chemistry" between the two leads, or maybe it''s a lack of vision. Either way, this centerpiece does not have the weight to anchor the film.
On the other hand, the central male relationships are beautifully portrayed. Henry Thomas does his best work since E.T. as Cole''s quiet sidekick Lacey Rawlins, Damon turns in a solid if unexciting performance as the story''s primary focus, and Lucas Black >(Sling Blade) practically steals the whole show with his mercurial performance as Jimmy Blevins, the tragic plug of a boy who wants to be a man and who maybe is a horse thief and maybe isn''t.
Certain of the book''s ideas translate to the screen just fine: the passing of the West, the evolution of boys to men, the meaning of honor, and the cowboy existentialism that frequently comments on God''s absence or presence, or wonders about things like whether it''s possible to believe in heaven without believing in hell.
All the Pretty Horses has the overall effect of a sketchbook: It''s filled with smatterings of ideas and images incompletely developed.
It''s not the dumb thing you do that gets you into trouble, Rawlins tellingly observes, "it''s the choice you make before it." The same might be said for this movie. It seems the victim of dozens of mini-miscalculations, together those choices add up to trouble. Yet, the film''s elegiac tone and honest heart come through.
Vaya con Dios, Billy Bob.
All the Pretty Horses... (* * *)Rated: R, 117 min.
Director: Billy Bob Thornton
Starring: Henry Thomas, Penelope Cruz, Ruben Blades, Lucas Black, Bruce Dern, Robert Patrick, Julio Oscar Mechoso, Matt Damon, Sam Shepard, Miriam Colon
Where: Century Park 7, State Theater
When: See Movie Times