A horse worth killing for.
The Horsemen is set in modern day Afghanistan (in this case, "modern" means 1970) where viewers meet Uraz (Omar Sharif, Lawrence of Arabia, Hidalgo), the bitter son of Tursen (Jack Palance, City Slickers, The Lonely Man), a clan leader who was once a champion horseback rider in a deadly sport called "Buzkashi." The rough and tumble sport requires horseback riding players to collect the carcass of a dead, decapitated animal and drop it in a ring, all the while fending off their fellow players brutal beatings. Uraz is sent to Kabul by his father to represent his community in a large Buzkashi tournament. Victory is in sight for Uraz until a dangerous spill leaves him crippled with a broken leg. Angry and dejected, Uraz begins a long and treacherous trek through the Afghani mountains with only his servant, Mukhi (David de Keyser, Diamonds are Forever) and his cherished horse (which he seems to love more than life itself), which he bequeaths to Mukhi should Uraz die before reaching their final destination. Refusing medical treatment, Uraz's leg becomes gangrenous and eventually must be removed; at the same time, his loyal servant plots against him with an "untouchable" woman (Leigh Taylor-Young, Soylent Green) to gain his horse and riches. What's a one-legged former Buzkashi champion to do? It's enough to make even a stiff heart like Saddam shed a tear.
I was a bit put off by the late director John Frankenheimer's The Horsemen; here's a movie void of any sympathetic characters. Sharif's Uraz is such an angry, disrespectful SOB and I grew tired of seeing him as the protagonist. He snaps at everyone, calling women whores and generally acting like someone forgot to crown him "Personal Leader of all Space and Time." His servant, Mukhi, wants to kill him so he can have his horse. Mukhi's lover is also in on the death plot, though at least her breasts are far more gaze-worthy than Mukhi's. Along the way we meet a lot of other folks without names or defining characteristics—mostly it's dirty men yelling and screaming in front of a cock fight, a sheep fight, men on horses beating each other with sticks, et cetera. Somewhere deep inside The Horsemen is a movie about a son's desperate plea for respect from his father; the only problem is that Frankenheimer forgot to let it out. What we do get is a movie where Sharif grits his teeth a lot while Palance (sporting old age make-up that, frankly, looks like old age make-up) muses about that damned horse. In fact, so much love and affection is slathered on Uraz's horse that you'd think it was a four legged supermodel that craps fifty dollar bills. If nothing else the cinematography by Andre Domage, James Wong Howe, and Claude Renoir looks great—never have the mountains of Afghanistan looked so picturesque and serene, though it didn't make me want to vacation there. And I do have to admit that the scenes involving Buzkashi are very well filmed—if you're a hockey fan you'll love watching the contestants beat the snot out of each other while carrying around a deceased animal. At one point two players grab hold of the animal, each taking one leg each and stretching it to almost comical proportions. And that's about as far as my excitement for this movie was stretched—clocking in at nearly two hours, The Horsemen overstays its welcome with boring dialogue, flat characters, and not nearly enough scenes of excitement.
The Horsemen is presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. Columbia has done an okay job with this transfer, nothing more and nothing less. There are moments when the image looks exceptional and other times when major imperfections rear their ugly heads. Overall, the colors and black levels are all in good shape. Unfortunately, there is a small amount of dirt and grain in the picture that is sometimes distracting. Considering the film's age this isn't very surprising. Fans of the film won't be blown away by this transfer though they will enjoy seeing the film in its original aspect ratio. The soundtrack is presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono in English. There's nothing impressive to write about here—the lack of surround sounds and directional effects is expected, if a bit disappointing. The dialogue, music, and effects are all clear, and that's the most important thing. Also included on this disc are English and French subtitles.
This is a catalog release from Columbia and that can only mean one thing: oodles of trailers! Yes, the only extra features included on The Horsemen is a trailer for the film, as well as bonus trailers for the Columbia movies The Guns of Navarone and Lawrence of Arabia.
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