All the Pretty Horses

Directed by Billy Bob Thornton
Starring: Matt Damon, Henry Thomas, Penélope Cruz, Lucas Black, Rubén Blades.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for violence and some sexuality.

Review by Lauren Snyder <lauren@filmhead.com>
January 26, 2001

This film came out in limited release on December 25th, and is soon to be leaving the theatres after only a month. Now I'll explain why.

As a writer, one of the lessons one learns is that oftentimes, we have grand ideas that are too large for one story, and that it's better to focus on a smaller section than to tell an epic in a hurry. Cormac McCarthy's tale is so huge and unfocused that it's played out in episodic parts that almost seem unconnected to the others. At first, it's a buddy picture, then a romance, then a prison drama, and then I realised in the last ten minutes of the film that it's supposed to be about John Grady Cole (Matt Damon)'s fall from God's graces and his strange path to redemption. I'm not sure if the confusion is because of the transition to the big screen or if the book itself is flawed, but I tend to think the fault lies with the novel.

Director Billy Bob Thornton doesn't bring the audience any closer to the story, but instead seems bent on intentionally alienating and unsettling the filmgoer. He makes frequent use of fades to black, which neither supports a case of this being a "real" story, nor does it add to the idea of its being magic realism.

When the main characters (Cole and pal Lacey Rawlins, played by a scowling Henry Thomas) cross over into Mexico, one of the first things I noticed was that some of the Mexican actors, instead of speaking Spanish and having English subtitles, did not speak, but the subtitles appeared and Cole answered. This seemed like some weird horror movie device, as did the use of whispered Spanish dialogue in the background of some scenes.

If this is truly supposed to be magic realism, the audience should feel like part of the fairy tale. Instead, I felt I was being subjected to a story that was creepy, random, and sometimes painfully trite. I could see the script as a series of one-line film pitches. -- "Two cowboys meet moptop sharpshooter on their way South of the Border!" "Gringo horse tamers become local attraction to Mexican farmers!" "Young blonde American man wins the heart of rebellious Mexican heiress!" -- And, unlike what you see in the trailers, this stuff only happens in the first 45 minutes or so. There's three other movies packed into the next hour.

The only things that this movie has going for it, in my opinion, are some beautiful vistas and Matt Damon. Though not the most talented young actor out there, Damon is nevertheless somewhat engaging as the hero/antihero in this film. If a less watchable actor played Cole, this film would've been DOA. As it stands, it's a mostly unwatchable patchwork job that leaves you yelling at the screen, "What the f**k was that?!"


For more information, go to the Internet Movie Database:
All the Pretty Horses (2000)

Here's some merchandise for sale at Amazon.com
All the Pretty Horses (2000) -- VHS
All the Pretty Horses (2000) -- DVD
All the Pretty Horses, a novel by Cormac McCarthy -- Hardcover
All the Pretty Horses, a novel by Cormac McCarthy -- Paperback
All the Pretty Horses, a novel by Cormac McCarthy -- Audio CD (read by Frank Muller)
All the Pretty Horses, a novel by Cormac McCarthy -- Audio Cassette (read by Frank Muller)
All the Pretty Horses: Soundtrack -- Compact Disc


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