The Good: Cinematography, Score (I suppose)
The Bad: Horrible story, Lousy characters, Pointless direction, Misuse of talent
The Basics: All The Pretty Horses is a cinematic treat creates visual eye candy but nothing else. Not a thing. Honest.
I just sat through All The Pretty Horses. I watched it, I tried to get into it, but the bottomline is I sat through the production.
All The Pretty Horses follows John Grady Cole (who, in typical South/Southwestern fashion - at least in the media - insists on introducing himself all the time by all three names) from Texas where his mother is selling the family ranch to Mexico. He is accompanied by Lacey Rawlins, though his motives for travel are far less clear other than that they are "buddies." That simplistic logic gets old quite quickly, as is made painfully obvious only a few minutes into the film when they pick up Jimmy Blevins and decide to allow him to accompany them because he's an American. I fail to believe that even in the 40s such logic held up. So, the trio goes into Mexico and Blevins gets separated from Cole and Rawlins and the pair gets hired to break horses at Hector de la Rocha's ranch.
It becomes quite clear early in the viewing experience that if you're not into horses or the Southwest, this film isn't going to be for you. It's not quite a Western (genre), but it's not much more, either. The film is heavy on horse themes, trainer dialect and such. What works is the cinematography. The film is amazingly shot and there is much to look at that is quite nice.
The problem is, a lot of the visual images are pointless and baffling. The camera will suddenly pan to something that seems to have no connection with the current action, no point.
The true fault of the film is that it tries to do too much and ends up doing none of them particularly well. The reason most films focus on one theme is because 1 1/2 - 2 1/2 hours is a good length to actually explore an issue. All The Pretty Horses tries to take on too much, i.e. lack of civil rights in law enforcement in Mexico, the effect of prison, and word of honor vs. passion of the heart. Most of the themes end up being underdeveloped and they feel that way.
The characters are largely simplistic. Cole is somewhat developed, but it's difficult to care about him because he is such an obvious paradigm for "good, simple, hardworking folk" being set against a stern culture and such obvious evils as the Strongarmed Captain. Alejandra, Cole's love interest for whom he sacrifices much, is a pretty face with a word of honor and little else. Her character lacks soul. Rawlins is similarly ill-defined and flat.
The greatest crime is that the talent that does exist isn't used. The wonderful Ruben Blades appears far too briefly and is never returned to. Lucas Black plays Blevins wonderfully and, in fact, had the film stuck with Blevins instead of progressed into a pointless love story with Cole, the film might have been enjoyable. Penelope Cruz is in yet another film for her body which is supposed to be desirable, but comes across as obvious. There's something disturbing about watching emaciated women on screen under the pretense that they are sexy. Sigh. Matt Damon is fine as Cole, but adds little to the character.
The reason I'm giving this 2 1/2 is that the film was not completely obvious. While Cole seeks - and receives - redemption in the States from a judge, the romantic plot does not go in the usual, obvious direction. And there was a portion of the film I believed Rawlins had been killed. Looking at the IMDB, director Billy Bob Thorton was apparently quoted on Oprah saying if the film only touched 10 people, it was worth making. I'm not one of those ten and I seriously doubt that he made his personal quota.
For other films featuring Matt Damon, please check out my reviews of:
The Adjustment Bureau
For other film reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!
© 2011, 2002 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.