Magnolia Pictures // 2011 // 102 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // December 20th, 2011
Sam Shepard is Butch Cassidy.
"Bolivia. Dammit. Bolivia."
It's been twenty years since famed bank robbers Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid were reportedly gunned down in a shootout with local authorities in Bolivia. However, reports of their death were greatly exaggerated: Butch (Sam Shepard, The Right Stuff) is still alive and well in Bolivia, living under the name of James Blackthorn. At long last, he's decided it's time to move along and head back to the states. He withdraws his cash from the local bank, says farewell to the young woman he's been seeing lately and heads north. Shortly after he begins his journey, he crosses paths with a desperate young thief named Eduardo Apodaca (Eduardo Noriega, The Devil's Backbone). Butch sees something of himself in the young man, and eventually agrees to help Eduardo find his way to freedom. Will the legendary gunslinger and his new companion survive their arduous journey?
Anyone who has seen George Roy Hill's legendary western Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid knows that it's a film that isn't exactly begging for a sequel. Even so, the movie's enduring popularity has led many to attempt to cash in with assorted sequels, prequels and spin-offs: the prequel Butch and Sundance: The Early Days, the made-for-tv films Mrs. Sundance, The Legend of Butch and Sundance, and Wanted: The Sundance Woman and the TV show Alias Smith and Jones. Now we can add Mateo Gil's Blackthorn to the list, a somewhat audacious bit of cinematic revisionism that imagines that Butch Cassidy actually survived that famous offscreen gunfight. It's possibly the most compelling of the aforementioned follow-ups, but that isn't an enormous compliment.
The best thing Blackthorn has to offer is the performance of Sam Shepard, who is appropriately weary and grizzled as the aging Butch Cassidy. He brings a quiet depth to the role which remains compelling from start to finish, and incorporates just a few shades of Paul Newman's charismatic performance into his more subdued take on the character. During the many moments in which the film simply gazes at Shepard's weathered face as he wanders the Bolivian landscape on his horse while gentle guitar music and soft winds join forces on the soundtrack, Blackthorn is a terrifically atmospheric western. The film has such a tremendous sense of place; a fact which is greatly enhanced by the simple yet elegant cinematography of Juan Ruiz Anchia.
Unfortunately, there's a story that accompanies all these fine visuals. The film's first half gets tedious pretty quickly, as Butch and Eduardo don't really generate much chemistry together. It's clear that their journey is intended to echo the endless escape Butch and Sundance once made many years ago, but it's far less engaging this time around. Noriega has difficulty keeping up with Shepard in the acting department, making the effortless give-and-take Newman and Redford achieved difficult to recreate. The film's second half is a bit more engaging, particularly during a handful of scenes Butch shares with an old foe played by a movingly distraught Steven Rea (The Crying Game), but these eventually give way to some scenes of unpersuasive macho posing. In the end, the film feels too much like a pale shadow of its inspiration. Not even the late Paul Newman could have made the tale Blackthorn tells feel worthwhile.
Speaking of Newman, his presence is sorely missed during the plentiful supply of flashback scenes the film provides. The young Butch and Sundance are respectively played by Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (Black Hawk Down) and Padraic Delaney (The Wind That Shakes the Barley), two young actors saddled with the very unpleasant task of having to act out moments which are intended to play as deleted scenes from the original film. Suffice it to say that these moments only serve to remind of us of what we're missing. The worst moment is a scene which details precisely what happened after that famous shootout; it's a silly piece of sensationalism which is bound to leave a sour taste in the mouths of many viewers.
Blackthorn (Blu-ray) benefits from an exceptional 1080p/2.35:1 transfer which beautifully highlights the film's stark locations. The visuals are certainly one of the movie's greatest attributes; it's actually one of 2011's best-looking movies. If only the story had been even moderately satisfying, it wouldn't be hard to justify spending time in this cinematic world. The detail is spectacular throughout, as you can see every whisker on Shepard's face and every blade of grass in the fields they walk through. Blacks are deep and inky and flesh tones are warm and natural. The DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio track gets the job done nicely, as this is a quiet but detailed track which employes an effectively gentle blend of sound design, spare music by Lucio Godoy and half-whispered dialogue. It's an immersive track, but not one which will give your speakers a workout at any point. Supplements include a handful of short films by director Mateo Gil, two disposable featurettes ("The Making of Blackthorn" and "HDNet: A Look at Blackthorn"), some deleted scenes and a trailer.
Considering the film's visual artistry, the fine performance from Sam Shepard and the small number of westerns we're given these days, I'd love nothing more than recommend Blackthorn. Sadly, I'm obliged to report that it's just another pointless addition to a story which was satisfactorily completed long ago.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Magnolia Pictures
* 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 102 Minutes
Release Year: 2011
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Deleted Scenes
* Short Films