Director: Mateo Gil
Writer: Miguel Barros
Starring: Sam Shepard, Eduardo Noriega, Stephen Rea, Magaly Solier, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Padraic Delaney, Dominique McElligott
Synopsis: After supposedly being killed in Bolivia, Butch Cassidy (Shepard) managed to create a new identity after getting away. He lived as James Blackthorne and after looking for a new adventure he became aligned with a man named Eduardo (Noriega) whose fugitive status made both men targets for lawmen and gangs.
Due to the iconic and beloved film Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, many films involving the two bank robbers that followed George Roy Hill’s classic seemed unnecessary and insubstantial. It was also down to the idea that Cassidy and the Kid died at the wrong end of countless Bolivian gun barrels, leaving their story with a definite end point. Nevertheless, research into the two crooks led to the discovery of their escape. Whilst the story of their survival has little evidence, Blackthorn concocts a brilliant story of “what if?” combined with some pieces of historical evidence.
Cassidy, as audiences of the popular Paul Newman/Robert Redford film understand, was a lovable rogue whose criminal activity was out of necessity rather than malice. Sam Shepard who now takes on the role imbues a faint charm under a weathered and rugged frame. He completely embodies the outlaw, gracing the film with great acting and a wonderful spirit. Depending on how Barros wrote the older Cassidy character in the script, Shepard certainly makes it his own. It cannot escape the comparison to Paul Newman’s embodiment but rightly alters it for the aged figure he became.
The story of Butch and Sundance back in their heyday is occasionally referenced with flashbacks – superb casting of Nikolaj Coster-Waldau as the younger Cassidy (who looks startling similar to Shepard) adds to the authentic feel of the film. The structure of the film is masterfully arranged, with Gil developing an engrossing story that plays upon the legend of the pair and the unknown adventures of a lone Cassidy.
Rather unbelievably this is a first feature picture. Gil previously directed TV movies and shorts, as well as writing a few screenplays, but brings sophistication to the entirety of Blackthorn. Casting has helped the film bring the story to life (which would fall flat on moments of dull dialogue were it not for the actors) and cinematography is impeccably majestic. Juan Ruiz Anchia’s camera work rivals that of Freddie Young’s or Roger Deakins’ when it comes to awe-inspiring scenes of beauty. Westerns rule the big screen; Blackthorn’s sequences on the barren landscapes are wonderfully nostalgic with touches of modern technical skill (camera rigs and near-unnoticeable computer effects) – Anchia celebrating what makes the genre recognisable.
Westerns are a forgotten and less admired genre nowadays leaving Blackthorn to linger in cult territory. It drags in sections of the third act with Stephen Rea’s undeveloped character yet overall it’s an entertaining film that had it had been made back in the John Ford era would be viewed as a highly stylish example of the genre. If you can borrow the Blu-ray do so – the picture enhancement adds a great deal to the viewing experience.
By Piers McCarthy