All The Pretty HorsesThursday 24 May 2001
Directed by Billy Bob Thornton, starring Matt Damon, Henry Thomas, Penelope Cruz, Lucas Black and Ruben Blades.
Matt Damon is John Grady Cole, an idealistic young rancher who finds himself homeless after his mother decides to sell the ranch where he has spent his entire life. Frightened at the prospect of losing the only way of life he knows, Cole saddles up with best friend Lacey Rawlins (Henry Thomas) an embarks on a dream to blaze the cowboy trail down in Mexico.
Along the way the two meet up with volatile and intrepid teenager Jimmy Blevins (Lucas Black). Sensing trouble, Rawlins suggests leaving Blevins behind. Cole, honourable as ever, feels impelled to help their new acquaintance; it's a decision that will have long-term consequences.
When Cole and Rawlins eventually reach Mexico, they are hired to work on a hacienda where few questions are asked and a talent for breaking horses is still a source of honour. As they fall into a routine as familiar to them as the shape of their saddles, Cole also falls into an illicit love affair with the patron's daughter. In a land where reputation and honour are paramount, the forbidden affair and some murky business involving Blevins brings John Grady Cole to a deeper understanding of himself, and of the changing world around him.
Adapted from the Cormac McCarthy novel of the same name, 'All The Pretty Horses' loses much of its epic scope in the translation to the screen. In fairness to director Billy Bob Thornton and screenwriter Ted Tally, the task of transposing a prolix character study to the silver screen was never going to be easy. Despite a script which remains faithful to the sparse language of the novel, and some breathtaking cinematography, the whole production feels too lethargic.
In a film where the characters are uniformly under-developed, Lucas Black as the impetuous teenager Jimmy Blevins stands out. With a perfect mix of pride and fear, Black easily outshines the opposition, of whom Henry Thomas and Penelope Cruz are particularly disappointing. In the lead role of John Grady Cole, Matt Damon gives an assured if unspectacular performance, let down by poor characterization and an alarming absence of chemistry with Cruz.
As an account of a young cowboy's fight to retain his erstwhile bucolic bliss, and of his induction into adulthood, 'All The Pretty Horses' never really gets into a comfortable stride. Ultimately, it's hard to escape the feeling that for all its panoramic visuals, it remains disappointingly flat.