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.