All the Pretty Horses

Although finished over a year ago, All the Pretty Horses (based on Cormac McCarthy's novel) is finally making its way into theaters. There were alleged headbutting incidents between the studio and director Billy Bob Thornton on running time. Thornton's initial cut was over three hours long, and the studios wanted something shorter. The end result is still over two hours, and paradoxically feels laid back and rushed. The film takes place in Texas and Mexico in the 1950s, in the dying days of the old west. Surprisingly, some parts of the United States and Mexico look untouched by modern technologly. Amidst all of this, John Grady Cole is looking to keep his old way of life. The family ranch that Cole (Matt Damon, The Legend of Bagger Vance, The Talented Mr. Ripley) grew up on was sold, leaving him wanting something more. He and his friend Lacey Rawlins (Henry Thomas, Suicide Kings, Fever) set off for Mexico, looking for work.

Along the way, they meet young Jimmy Blevins (Lucas Black, Crazy in Alabama, The Ghosts of Mississippi), a young boy also looking to escape to Mexico. Cole and Rawlins end up working at a large Mexican ranch where he falls in love with the Alejandra (Penelope Cruz, Captain Corelli's Mandolin, Woman on Top), the owner's daughter. Of course the owner does not approve, and Cole and Rawlins end up in jail on some other trumped-up charges. All the Pretty Horses is an example of the classic coming-of-age story. Cole undergoes a journey of both a physical and mental nature. By the time it is over, he has tested his friendships, fallen in love, and lost his innocence.

Thornton (Sling Blade, Daddy and Them) has a gifted eye behind the camera. He favors long open shots of beautiful landscape, showing open vistas and long rivers. Cole and Rawlins seem so insignificant compared to their surroundings. The openness and many elements of Ted Tally's (Mission to Mars, White Palace) adaptation seem to convey a sense of fate for Cole. He has no control over the events that happen. The things that do happen take on two traits. Many of them happen languidly, yet feel rushed. It's as if all the cuts took out snippets of seconds in each scene. Every individual scene seems to pass by too quickly, not taking the time to flesh out events and characters. Cole's love for Alejandra is supposedly deep, as is her affection for him, but on-screen, it merely looks like an infatuation. Cruz is not on screen for long, so her love for Cole is a greater mystery.

This was supposed to be Cruz's breakthrough film for American audiences, as is every English film she makes these days. Her role here seems to be to look beautiful (granted, it's not hard for her to do this) without much acting. It's understandable that Cole intrigues her. He is the new blood, the gringo, and a man forbidden to her by her father. Thomas just whines a lot. Damon's performance has a little more depth. Unfortunately, most of Cole's growth is internal, and not evident to the viewer. Thornton lets events happen and for just long enough to have them pass, but not enough time for the emotional impact to set in. So while All the Pretty Horses is not a bad movie, it just feels like it is missing something.

Haro Rates It: Okay.
2 hours, 15 minutes, Rated PG-13 for violence and some sexuality.

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