Viggo Mortensen, fresh of what will undoubtedly be the best three years of his career, goes from king to cowboy in Hidalgo, an adventure-drama that seems like a throwback to another generation. That isn't necessarily a good thing.
Much like Seabiscuit, Hidalgo is an unimpressive-looking horse that is an underdog facing unprecedented odds; to be precise, the horse has been entered into a 3,000 mile race against a bunch of larger and more powerful thoroughbreds. Also like Seabiscuit, Hidalgo is based on a true story, though this movie's historical accuracy leaves little to be desired for. Though lengthy details need not be compared, it is quite obvious that this movie was not made to tell the story of Hidalgo's rider, Frank T. Hopkins, but to tell the story of a man struggling to get across the Arabian Desert. Though Hopkins, who is considered to be one of the best long-distance racers ever, did compete in the mighty race, much of the stuff in between is obviously fiction, as he takes time out of his day to save the Sheikh's kidnapped daughter, fight a bunch of sword-wielding marauders and still have time to win the race. Add in a forbidden romantic interest, a manipulative British woman and some commentary on how badly the white man treated the Native Americans, and you've got one hell of a story! Oh, and let's not forget that Hidalgo takes a spear through the leg yet still is somehow capable of galloping full throttle to the finish line. That is one strong horse.
Hidalgo is an okay movie, but suffers from a lot of cheesy parts. In every way and form it is an old-school western, similar to hundreds of movies that have come before that depict the American cowboy as the right way to be in the midst of a more sheltered culture. Though it doesn't depict Arabs in a bad light, as some people are claiming, it definitely depicts the sole American in a better light - one who is a rebel against traditional and cultural norms, such as hiding a woman's face behind a veil. The movie may not be culturally sensitive, but it isn't insensitive, either.
Regardless, the movie has a lot of cheesy parts. The script isn't especially good, and the acting isn't great, either. Mortensen is good enough in the lead, but seems a bit stale compared to the dynamic character Aragon in The Lord of the Rings. His co-stars, whether due to the dull script or something else, seem shallow and unimaginative. There are plenty of lines that the actors obviously had trouble saying with conviction. All of this stuff accumulates into some pretty cheesy moments, especially when the movie delves into Mortensen's acceptance of his Native American past. It is hard not to cringe. Other low points include the very short scene with the computer generated leopards - if something doesn't look real, do not put them in the movie.
Still, a little cheesiness never hurts if there is plenty of adventure to go around, right? Unfortunately, there isn't. Hidalgo really struggles because it is trying to be something it is not: a drama. The pace of the movie - which everyone expects to be pretty quick with action sequences that include such things as sand storms, Arabian swordfighters and more - is cut up tremendously by slow, boring drama sequences. Hidalgo doesn't work as a drama in any way or form, but it does do a good job of being boring.
All that being said, Hidalgo does have its moments and overall is entertaining enough to sit through. There are a couple of decent action sequences, though nothing too notable. There are many worse things in the world than this, though it is rather disappointing to watch this movie struggle to captivate its audience, when, if done correctly, it should have been easy. Part of the blame must be placed on director Joe Johnston, who, though capturing some vividly beautiful shots of the desert, is consistent in focus and direction. The technical look of the film changes as much as its mood; on the good side, this movie is much better than the terrible Jurassic Park III.
Hidalgo is an okay film with an okay performance from Viggo Mortensen, but does not have enough going for it to keep it from trotting off into the sunset sooner than later.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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