This has to be the least adventurous adventure movie in recent memory, and it’s hard to really say why. All the right elements are in place–you’ve got cowboys, horse chases, gunfights in the desert, betrayal, plot twists, revenge, and mumbly southern drawls. But for some reason something about this movie isn’t working. Even though all the elements are in place, the excitement, the emotion, just isn’t there. This movie feels as dry as the desert most of it is set in.
It’s about Butch Cassidy, played for most of the movie by Sam Shepard, and in flashbacks by Jaime Lannister (boy does that sound more awesome that it actually was), now a tired old horse-seller living in Bolivia, who meets a Spaniard, who used to work in a mine, until he decided it would be a better idea to just steal the mine’s money and flee to…somewhere? I dunno, I got so sleepy I couldn’t really follow it all.
I think what Blackthorn is missing is its heart. It’s as though the people who made this movie just weren’t feeling it. Though there’s the potential for a great story here, and you can see the hole where a great movie should have been, the trouble is that Blackthorn just doesn’t seem to believe in itself. Things happen that would be dramatic, and you start to think you might finally be feeling something, but these moments are so downplayed that you have to wonder if you are supposed to care at all. Seriously, movie! How about a little, well, drama?
It’s not all bad. There are some scenes that perk you (by which I mean wake you) up, like a pretty cool chase across some salt flats, and a shootout in the mountains of Bolivia between our heroes and two very pissed-off women. But every time the movie looks like it might finally pull itself together, it sinks back down into the murky depths of its plodding inertia.
Putting your finger on what’s broken in Blackthorn is sort of like figuring out what’s wrong with the economy. There’s no easy answer, or rather, there are a lot of little bitty answers that sort of add up. First of all, there’s the the fact that everything is so sedate. No one seems to get riled up about anything.
In one scene, a major character is killed. This death should be tragic, both for the audience and the protagonist. But even though we get a few seconds of obligatory weeping over the fallen body, the movie then switches to a new scene and we’re back to the cowboy drawl. This death is rarely mentioned again, and it’s hard to tell just how much out protagonist even gives a ***. I feel like I cared more than he did, and I barely even knew the deceased.
Similarly, there’s a big plot twist at the end that should be shocking and horrifying. The music doesn’t even change its tempo. Same twangy, psuedo-westerney stuff we’ve been hearing the whole time. If theres a such thing as cowboy elevator music, well, here it is.
Now imagine this trailer with elevator music, and you begin to understand the movie.
And then we’ve got another big problem; the central relationship in the movie just isn’t working. You’ve got too main characters, the old, grizzled veteran bandit, and the Spanish thief. The friendship between these two forms the emotional core of the movie. Or it would, if we, the audience, got any sense that there actually was a friendship. Sadly, the relationship between these two characters never feels real. Part of the problem is Eduardo Noriega, the actor who portrays the Spanish thief. I’m sure he is capable of acting in his native language, but here everything he says comes off as forced. You can’t help but feel as though he is tiredly reading off lines from a script he’s got in his lap. Listen to him in that trailer up above:
“You’re a damn legend! Now here you are! Here you are!”
His character is supposed to be overcome with excitement in that scene, bursting with energy and enthusiasm. But instead he just sounds like someone who just got woken up while he was napping and is about to nod off trying to act as though he’s bursting with energy and enthusiasm.
Blackthorn is like the Cohen brothers’ True Grit without the snappy dialogue and brilliant acting that made True Grit good. It’s got a fine premise, but it just feels too damn sleepy. And in a self-proclaimed adventure movie, sleepy is probably not a good thing.