Hidalgo Dual Review

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.