PLOT: Butch Cassidy is alive and well and living in Bolivia under the name James Blackthorn. His outlaw days long past, he has finally decided to return to the son he has never met. His plans change when a stranger attempts to rob the old man, leaving them both without a horse and without Cassidy’s entire savings. This strange man promises to make it up to him if only he will help with a robbery of a rich mine owner. However, this is the old west where nothing is ever what it seems.
It is exciting to see the return of the western. Over the past few years, there have been a number of awe-inspiring features including THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES BY THE COWARD ROBERT FORD and of course the Coen Brothers’ TRUE GRIT. This year, Magnolia Pictures brings BLACKTHORN, an original tale about the legendary Butch Cassidy. In the fictionalized account, the bank robber faked his death and took off far away from "wanted posters" and gunfights. The iconic figure has moved on and started a new life in Bolivia. Sam Shepard’s James Blackthorn aka Butch Cassidy is older and wiser yet he yearns to return home to a son he never knew.
Sam Shepard is one of the most genuine actors working in film today. When we first meet him as the fugitive, there is an unsettling fire within him. It is a sort of sadness that is worn and broken but he is not lost, his composed strength is very powerful. The way he carries himself on-screen is perfect for this aging cowboy. He speaks volumes within his silence, and when the words do arrive he is undeniably charismatic in Butch Cassidy’s skin. He carries the film on his capable shoulders and we, the audience, are able to connect and sympathize with his loss and desire to return home. This is a stunning, understated performance that should be remembered.
After collecting all his money from the bank in order to return back home to the states, Blackthorn crosses paths with a feller named Eduardo Apodaca (Eduardo Noriega) who attempts to steal the undercover outlaw’s horse. The stranger tells Blackthorn of a large sum of money he has stole and hidden from a wealthy mine owner. He reluctant decides to travel with the Spaniard after Eduardo promises to pay him back for all the money that galloped away with his trusty steed. Thus, their adventure begins as they must trust one another while searching for their reward. As their friendship develops, reasons for their actions change as do they way they see each other. Meanwhile they have a ton of people looking to stop the two riders dead in their tracks.
Aside from Shepard’s wonderful work, there is a real sense of history here. While it is a fictional account, director Mateo Gil brings this western to life with its magnificent scenery and a couple of talented leading men. Both Shepard and Noriega are fantastic as they both search for something just out of reach. A good western will nearly always shine when the talent on-screen is able to connect with the audience, and both actors do tremendously well. Add to that the effective score intermingled with some traditional folk and country tunes, and you have a serene and confident tale of outlaws and morality that looks as good as it sounds.
The one drawback to the film is the use of flashbacks telling of Butch Cassidy and, you guessed it, the Sundance Kid (played by Padraic Delaney and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau respectively). Both actors are quite good, however every single time the memory begins, it feels strange and out of place. It is most certain they want to convey the similarities to the current friendship and the reasons why Cassidy is the man he is today. Yet it never really seems to flow in the context of the film. They awkwardly offer us this history lesson that stumbles about until we get the heart of the story. The idea was nice and might have worked if the flowed a little better with the main storyline.
Stephen Rea also appears as an old nemesis of Butch Cassidy named Mackinley. The always reliable actor is also very good here, yet his character feels a bit like an afterthought. With that, both he and Shepard have a couple of truly effective moments together, you still question some of Mackinley's choices as to whether he'd really do what he does here. Just another character that is not as fully fleshed out as he could have been.
With a couple of minor missteps, Blackthorn is a languidly paced piece of fiction that handsomely brings the old west to life. The scenery is incredible and the actors are terrific. This is especially true with Sam Shepard’s Butch Cassidy. His performance is as rich as it is simple, so much so that it truly brings Mateo Gil’s western to a near perfect pitch.
BLACKTHORN is opening in select cities on October 7th and is currently available on Video on Demand.