I went to an advanced screening of the new Viggo Mortensen vehicle, Hidalgo, last evening. The story story centers around Frank Hopkins [Mortensen]; his paint mustang, Hidalgo; and long distance horse racing. Hopkins goes to Arabia to compete in a 3,000 mile Bedouin race across the deserts. A dual review is found below, one praises the movie and one critiques it. There will most likely be spoilers.
I didn’t think it was possible for Hollywood to make movies like Hidalgo anymore. The story itself would not have been out of place anywhere in Classical Hollywood. There was no overt sex, little overt romance, and it was wonderful. I shouldn’t need to be shown a sex scene or even a kiss to know that there is some type of chemistry between two characters. I also shouldn’t need to see a character ready to pork at the first scent of seduction. I like to think that I am a bit smarter than that. The director, Joe Johnston, apparently recognizes that humans have the ability to infer attraction and defer copulation if they apply themselves to it. Thus, I am glad that Hopkins does not shag Lady Davenport [Louise Lombard], nor even kiss Jazira [Zuleikha Robinson]. It would have seemed incongruous studio fiddle-faddle if he had.
The violence is not gore, but of the action-adventure variety. It is entertaining and realistic without being gruesome. It is also not overused. The fight sequences last just long enough to keep a movie about a 3,000 mile horse race from becoming boring.
The raid and rescue sequence at the end of the first third of the movie was probably the best placed subplot/sidequest I have ever seen in a movie. Here I am sitting in the theater thinking: ‘horse race horse race horse ra..holy shit! Jazira just got kidnapped. Holy Shit! Hopkins just saved her. HOLY SHIT! HORSE RACE!’
The production values were refreshing. Night shots were underexposed, shots in the hell of the desert were overexposed, but both just enough to add to the scenes, intead of making them about the cinematography instead of the plot. In a scene in the tent of the Sheikh of Sheikhs which shows a subtle sunrise the characters features go from nearly invisible to being etched in the wan light of dawn, almost without notice. The normal wasn’t always the actor’s face, it was shot like people see.
The horse doesn’t die. This is key. I hate movies where animals are killed just to make you feel bad. Hidalgo teases the viewer with this but does not follow through. The ending is, instead, a wonderful bittersweet parting of great friends.
I completely recommend that you go see this movie. As a story and as a movie it is well crafted and a delight to partake of.
The movie is greatly concerned with blood, mixed and pure. In it, mixed blood triumphs over pure blood, both in horse and in human. An attempt is made to attribute the victory of mixed blood to a triumph of will, but this is faulty for one big reason.
-Since purebred versus mustang and infidel versus Bedouin are such a big deal, not treating the matter with more depth makes the perspectives seem racist, even though that might not be the intention.
This opens up a whole slew of misinterpretations. Most notably, since the mixed Hopkins and mixed Hidalgo win the race on pure gumption, the question of blood is avoided. One gets the sense that if the Prince that rode Al-Hattal had not been such a whiner and dandy and had not felt so threatened by Hopkins, he would have won easily. At the same time the Prince is like a nervous purebred dog, and Hopkins is a mellow, friendly mongrel. Blood is only addressed in stereotypes.
There might be some anti-Arabic sentiment in the film as well. My perception of this might also be the result of my own skewed mindset of the rampant anti-Arabic sentiments of our time. Although there is no overt racism directed toward them, they are depicted as barbaric, oppressive, condescending, and resentful of American values. The sheikh, on the other hand, appears to want to be an American himself. Hollywood cannot seem to make films in which an ethnic group is content to be themselves and content to let Americans be American.
And a bunch of other stuff: The massacre at Wounded Knee is revised to make it appear as much of an accident as possible. Mortensen plays a half-breed, but apart from high cheekbones, doesn’t really look the part. The Sioux are killed but their horses are saved. We start the movie with dead Sioux, end with their freed horses and we somehow care more for the free horses than we do for the dead Sioux. All women want Mortensen and it is implied that this is because he is rough and strong, and also because he is a mongrel. It’s a new version of the old fright surrounding white women and black men. All of that is rather wearing and boring. The movie can be enjoyed if it is seen without paying attention to any subtext, intended or inferred. When you try to examine what else might be hidden in the film, things get mighty confusing. I’m just going to wind up by saying that this confusion closely resembles the way many Americans feel toward the Middle-East- diversity, multiculturalism versus the melting pot- it offers ideas but no conclusions. i think i’ve might ahve done the same myself. or just the opposite.