Before I watched All the Pretty Horses last night, my uninformed opinion of this movie had always been that it was a chick flick western. This opinion was no doubt shaped by the movie ads picturing Matt Damon and Penelope Cruz surrounded by fluffy clouds and a romantic sunset – something straight off the cover of a romance novel. After actually watching the movie, I can safely say it was very far from a chick flick.
I continue to be surprised by my recent interest in Westerns. Although this one wasn’t quite as good as 3:10 to Yuma (the new version starring Christian Bale and Russell Crowe), this Billy Bob Thornton directed adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s novel was surprisingly engaging and well done.
After watching the most recent adaptation of a Cormac McCarthy novel, No Country for Old Men, I won’t be surprised by any amount of violence in a movie based on his work. However, I wasn’t expecting to be so disturbed by this movie. A film whose title refers to beautiful animals doesn’t seem like the type that should feature several gruesome, jolting scenes. But it does just that.
This movie almost plays out like a serialized story. At the beginning it feels like an adventure, but subsequent parts involve sudden shifts into romance, coming of age, survival, etc. If I were to categorize it, I’d have to call it an epic.
The movie features a great cast of familiar faces. Matt Damon is the headliner, and although the movie was filmed in 2000 when he was already 30, he looks very young. (He should, since he’s playing a teenager.) Damon’s character, John Cole, sets out with his friend Lacey, hoping to find work on a ranch in Mexico. Lacey is played by Henry Thomas, best known for his role as Elliott in E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial. He also played one of Brad Pitt’s brother’s in Legends of the Fall. John and Lacey encounter Jimmy Blevins, a brave and reckless teen, on their way to Mexico. Jimmy is played by Lucas Black. I think Black is the most impressive actor in this movie. He has been acting since he was very young. I remember seeing him on the short-lived and creepy television show American Gothic. (Anyone remember the promos that featured a little girl repeating the phrase “someone’s at the door” in a monotone voice?) And perhaps his best known role is as the little boy opposite Billy Bob Thornton in Sling Blade. I’m guessing that helped him get the role in this Thornton directed film.
Much of the movie focuses on the relationship among these three young men, but the main focus remains on Damon’s character, as we see him develop feelings for Alejandra (played by Penelope Cruz), have his will tested, and be forced to grow up fast. It seems misleading that Cruz was featured so prominently in the movie ads, since, as I mentioned before, the love story is somewhat of a subplot. Whatever sells tickets, I suppose… In my opinion, this romance between John and Alejandra was the least developed part of the movie.
While the movie is well done and entertaining, it does have its faults. At times, particularly in the second half, the story gets muddled down in some bizarre scenes in which, as a viewer, I didn’t know whether I was watching hallucinations, a dream, or a grim reality. Some things were never explained, leaving me frustrated at the end.
I do recommend this movie to anyone interested in seeing an out of the ordinary Western. From the beautiful scenery to the sudden shifts in plot, it is well worth two hours of your time.