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Review: Blackthorn

Director Mateo Gil’s Blackthorn is a film that ultimately has no guts.

Nick Schager



Photo: Magnolia Pictures

“Guess we can’t be blamed for getting older,” muses James Blackthorn (Sam Shepard), a.k.a. Butch Cassidy, in Blackthorn, but director Mateo Gil certainly can be held responsible for turning the iconic outlaw into a paper-thin Clint Eastwood-Unforgiven cliché in this western, which imagines the bandit as an aged codger in remote Bolivia. Having escaped death and settled into a solitary life raising horses in South America, Blackthorn decides to finally return to the U.S., where he’ll reunite with the son of the Sundance Kid and Etta (Dominique McElligott). It’s a plan that involves selling off his horse business to xenophobic English businessmen and saying farewell to his Native American housekeeper and lover, as well as visiting a financial institution where he muses (in a har-har gesture alluding to his prior stick-up career), “I can’t remember ever being so well-received at a bank before.” He’s a grizzled old loner who periodically indulges in memories of happier times alongside his famous compatriot, and that wistfulness practically engulfs Gil’s material, which goes overboard romanticizing not only the good ol’ days (here dramatized by Nikolaj Coster-Waldau and Padraic Delaney as second-rate Paul Newman and Robert Redford stand-ins), but also the lonely fate of Blackthorn, whose last-man-standing circumstances, far from a cautionary tale about the cost of the gunslinger life, are glorified as the height of macho nobility.

Blackthorn’s story has its protagonist run into unexpected trouble when he comes to the aid of Eduardo (Eduardo Noriega), a stranger who—after causing Blackthorn’s horse, which was carrying his life savings, to flee off into the wilderness—promises to hand over half of the $50,000 he stole from a crooked mining tycoon if Blackthorn will protect him from assassins. As further hammered home by blunt transitional fades, Blackthorn thus becomes his former self again, replete with a thieving sidekick, though it’s also soon clear that Miguel Barros’s script is a cowardly creation, too interested in simplistically lionizing its subject to substantially investigate any underlying issues of regret and culpability. Shepard does his best mournful-old-warrior routine, but his Butch still seems like a hackneyed archetype, a crotchety ex-badass with a no-nonsense attitude and a resignation to his potentially dire fate at the hands of a six-shooter. Innocents die, Butch’s longtime pursuer (Stephen Rea) reappears, and somber country ballads (sung by Shepard) cascade over expansive panoramas of barren plains. However, as epitomized by a climax in which good and evil aren’t blurred in order to critique or condemn all involved, but laughably delineated—heroes love Native Americans, while villains are racists!—so as to provide a final, ethically clueless note of print-the-legend glorification, it’s a film that ultimately has no guts.

Cast: Sam Shepard, Eduardo Noriega, Stephen Rea, Magaly Solier, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Padraic Delaney, Dominique McElligott Director: Mateo Gil Screenwriter: Miguel Barros Distributor: Magnolia Pictures Running Time: 98 min Rating: NR Year: 2011 Buy: Video

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