adventure of Hidalgo takes us from the dying days of
the "wild" west to the burning sands of the Middle East, as
horseman extraordinaire Frank T. Hopkins (Viggo Mortensen)
shows his mettle and his good old-fashioned American gumption.
Along the way, he reconnects with his Native American heritage
and proves that the wild Mustang horse is as good as any thoroughbred.
It's all true, give or take a lie or two.
adapted from Hopkins' own memoirs, which in turn are already
accused of having been loosely adapted from his imagination,
the movie has a certain charm. If you don't mind that it's
likely all fiction, it's pretty satisfying.
shouldn't Hopkins have mythologized himself? He claimed to
have rubbed elbows with Buffalo Bill (the always great J.K.
Simmons) and Annie Oakley (a perfectly cast Elizabeth Berridge),
two 19th century heroes who did more than their fair share
of exaggerating their histories? The script by John Fusco
even nods at such storytelling, as Hopkins has to play Scheherezade
to an intrigued Sheikh Riyadh (Omar Sharif), spilling intimate
details of his non-existent time with Wild Bill Hickock.
Joe Johnston never quite pushes the film into a clear wink
and nod at the audience, but he comes close. Just as he did
with The Rocketeer, Johnston finds the light moments
in scenes without making them overtly comedic. Instead of
presenting an historical drama, Johnston has put together
an old-fashioned western with a few modern touches. Take away
the slight feminist message and grave respect for native ways,
and Tom Mix could step out of the silents to star in this.
For there is no doubt that Hidalgo himself is a wonder horse.
for the mustang, in fact, you would have to take this movie
seriously, and it wouldn't work nearly as well. Johnston uses
Hidalgo to punctuate many scenes in which Hopkins seems to
get too full of himself, turning around and almost rolling
his huge horse eyes. The horse knows when a scene is too full
of his own droppings.
many scenes are. Most of the characters seem more types than
actual human beings. Hopkins is even drawn into the grueling
(and, by the way, historically non-existent) race, "The Ocean
of Fire," by a man clearly cast only because Peter Lorre was
busy being dead. That actor, Victor Talmadge, does a spot-on
Lorre, though. Malcolm McDowell shows up uncredited to play
a dotty old English lord. No doubt he had fun, but at this
point, it's almost an imitation of an imitation.
as we encounter the Sheikh and his daughter Jazira (Zuleikha
Robinson), we know where it's going. The only surviving child,
of course she has been secretly taught all the things only
men are supposed to be allowed to do. Occasionally, the film's
treatment of Islam steps toward condescending, but to its
credit, finds a balance between the two cultures. It may be
simplistic and hence unreal, but at least it's not insulting.
from Hidalgo, most of this movie rests on Mortensen's shoulders.
Call it a major bid for stardom that the actor claims not
to want. After playing Aragorn, it's hard to avoid, and Hidalgo
successfully continues his string of heroism. Assuming a twangy
gruffness to his voice, Mortensen lets his eyes show much
of Hopkins' conflicted self. In a set-up similar to that of
Tom Cruise's character in The
Last Samurai, guilt over his part in a slaughter tears
him up inside. But unlike Cruise, Mortensen makes you believe
it. He doesn't wallow in self-pity, but pain leaks through.
has action, fun, and even some real character development.
If it didn't tout itself as a true story, it would feel so
much more honest.