Sam Shephard Is Butch Cassidy In BLACKTHORNSeptember 07, 2011
On Demand Weekly provides new movie reviews of hot movies on demand and from the POV of watching from the comfort of your home. Today’s review: BLACKTHORN (Magnolia).
Sam Shephard Is Butch Cassidy In BLACKTHORN
By Chris Claro
As the author of such challenging and obtuse works as TRUE WEST and BURIED CHILD, Sam Shepard is one of the most studied and performed playwrights of the late 20th century. To support his work as a dramaturge, Shepard works as a film actor, bringing his grizzled charm to everything from weepies like STEEL MAGNOLIAS to war flicks like BLACK HAWK DOWN. With his laconic mien and square-jawed masculinity, Shepard is grit incarnate; as he seemingly rises from the dead out of an inferno in Philip Kaufman’s celebration of American moxie and stick-to-itiveness, THE RIGHT STUFF, a character sees the his hazy visage and asks “sir, is that a man?” to which Levon Helm offers the only apt reply: “you’re damned right it is.”
Sam Shephard (BLACKTHORN)
Having essayed Chuck Yeager in Kaufman’s epic, Shepard tackles another American icon, Butch Cassidy, in BLACKTHORN, directed by Mateo Gil. Employing flashbacks, Gil’s film focuses on both the older Cassidy, living on his own in Bolivia in 1927, and his early life, riding with the Sundance Kid and Etta Place. Throughout, a dogged Pinkerton man, McKinley (Stephen Rea, THE CRYING GAME) pursues the outlaw, determined to bring him to justice.
Mateo Gill (BLACKTHORN)
Gil’s film is daring only in that it he dares to return to a story that has already achieved iconic status on film. George Roy Hill’s study of the 1969 study of the outlaws not only made Redford a star, but shattered the template of western iconography, as it was filled with contemporary music, anachronistic comedy, and a dark ending. For Gil to tread the same ground, one would assume that he has an alternate take on the tale.
In some ways, he does. The idea of Butch Cassidy playing out the string in quiet solitude as he attempts to make it home to the States is a novel one, and there’s humor in the idea of Cassidy being hoisted on his own petard when his life savings run off on his spooked horse in the wake of a robbery. If the film had focused solely on the AARP-age Cassidy, it would have been a mournful, elegiac tale of the end of an era. But the flashback sequences, in which Cassidy is portrayed by another actor, can’t help but call to mind Redford, Newman, and Katherine Ross, and here’s where BLACKTHORN fails. In conjuring up images of one of the most indelible films of the 20th century, Gil does himself a disservice, because there’s no way that his depiction of the bank-robbing trio can compare to the original.
BLACKTHORN is most successful when Shepard’s Cassidy is pursuing his lost lucre and making a reluctant partner out of the bandito who tried to rip him off. His scenes with Rea are engaging, though I do have to air a personal gripe about them. Gil has Rea play McKinley in both the current-day scenes and the twenty-years-earlier flashbacks and it’s disconcerting, to say the least. Since another, younger actor is playing Butch, it seems that the same should be true of McKinley. It’s distracting to think that Rea simply has to wear a hat and a mustache to shave twenty years off his appearance.
Western fans will get the most out of BLACKTHORN, which wears its gunfights, vistas, and saddle blankets with pride. With a poignant, winning performance from one of the last real men in film, BLACKTHORN is a winner for western fans. If you’re among them, take the reins and tune in for BLACKTHORN.
Chris Claro is a contributing writer to On Demand Weekly. He is a former Director of Promotion for Sundance Channel and now works as a writer, producer, and media educator. He is a regular contributor to dvdverdict.com and contributor to the Eyes and Ears section of huffingtonpost.com
Look for BLACKTHORN (Magnolia) under your cable system's Movie On Demand section.
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