Tuesday 24 April 2012


(Mateo Gil, 2011)

It seems that at some point in the 1990s or 2000s we entered an era when the revisionist Western was assimilated comfortably by the genre. We all know, now, that the reassuring certainties of the films from the genres golden age - up through the 1950s, say - are bunk. The Westerns of the 1960s and 1970s made by Italian Directors and Americans like Sam Peckinpah and Clint Eastwood told us so, and their influence has been pervasive. But in recent years that influence seems to have acquired a slightly different character; its there in the production design, in the costumes and casting, in the music and photography, the attention to the physical realities of life on the American frontier. But it's not there in the narrative, in the stories these modern westerns tell. The stories seem almost to have devolved back a few decades; they are largely much simpler and less ambitious thematically.
Blackthorn is a fine example. It seems like it should be revisionist, telling a story of an ageing Butch Cassidy (Sam Shepherd), still alive and in Bolivia, and his encounter with a young Spaniard (Eduardo Noriega) on the run after stealing from a mine. It flirts with a few themes - ageing, exile, loneliness, the need for and contrast between friendship and family - but embraces none with any depth. Instead it settles for being a decent and old-fashioned Western with some poetry in it's ageing bones, but without any tension or real narrative interest.
Shepherd is effortlessly convincing and his soulful work gives it more feeling than it really deserves (flashbacks to more youthful South American incidents with the Sundance Kid are slightly distracting) - he should have been playing leads in Westerns since the 1970s. Noriega is handsomely efficient and Stephen Rea steals a few scenes as a Pinkerton lost in Bolivia, but the films glory is it's visual beauty.
Capturing the stark, extraordinary contrasts of the Bolivian landscape, Gil presents some truly sublime shots and sequences here. He is best known as Alejandro Amenabar's co-writer, and his skill as a director seems solid. Perhaps next time he should recruit Amenabar to be his co-writer, for with a better script he might be capable of something special.

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