The Western genre in films seems to have died out many years ago along with the revolvers, cattle ranches and of course the lonely cowboy. But every once in a while, movie studios feel a bit nostalgic and decide to make a new western. The only Western last year was Kevin Costner’s “Open Range.” This year, “Hidalgo” a film based on a real-life cowboy named Frank T. Hopkins who participated in long distance races tells the story of a man and his old horse who saddle up for one last great race.
“Hidalgo” took place during the end of the 19th century, a time when the age of the cowboy was coming to an end. One day, a rich prince from the Middle East comes to visit Hopkins and offers him a chance to participate in the longest race in the world through the Arabian Desert with a genorous award if he wins.. Hopkins has little hesitation and decides to embark on the race, not just for the money, but also for the experience of returning to his glory days.
I have always been a sucker for heroic cowboys. The character of Frank T. Hopkins, played by Viggo Mortensen, is no exception. Mortensen plays a character who is basically a loner. .Mortensen does a fine job portraying a true western hero, but to me the real star of the film is Omar Sharif as the Sheik. It was a real treat to see Sharif take out his sword and slay a dozen enemies. Seeing Sharif perform and especially fight was one of those times a person would say, “Wow, he’s still got it.”
Although it was fun to watch these characters, the way the story was presented was disappointing. I could imagine what was going through the writer’s mind when he was writing the script. “Okay, I can’t cram in too much action or scenes with the race so I’ll put in a lot of talking in-between all the action scenes so people won’t say there’s too much action.” Well the writer did do that and what we have in the end is a two and half hour film with a lot more dialogue than action.
At one point in the film, the Sheik’s daughter gets kidnapped and there’s almost a whole hour of a side story that is dedicated to saving his daughter. Not only has this been done before, it has been done better before.
In the progress of rescuing the daughter there are many uninspired sword fights that reminded me of of kids pretending they were sword fighting with plastic baseball bats.
In terms of action, there is nothing new here. If someone watched “Hidalgo” and “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” back to back, that person would probably think both films were made around the same time (the films have about a 20-year difference). This is how much “Hidalgo” has failed in terms of advancement in action.
Once we do actually get to see footage of the race, it almost redeems the rest of the movie. But since the rest of the film butchered the race sequence to only scenes in the beginning of the film and in the end of the film, the race felt only like a 30-mile race instead of a 3000-mile race.
“Hidalgo” tries to tell a good story and it somewhat accomplishes this with fine acting from its experienced cast but somewhat fails because of its formulaic and dull action sequences. “Hidalgo” attempts to be an innocent old western and although it is not even close to being one of the best ones, it did remind me of a time when the most popular movies were the ones about a man and his horse.
(Out of four)