Review Date: February 09, 2004
Director: Joe Johnston
Writer: John Fusco
Producers: Casey Silver
Viggo Mortensen as Frank Hopkins
Omar Sharif as Sheikh Riyadh
Louise Lombard as Anne Davenport
Set in 1890 and based on the true-life tale of Frank Hopkins and his horse Hidalgo, this film focuses on their later years when Frank had become a drunken sideshow attraction in Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show. Asked to compete in the world's greatest horse race, running 3000 miles across Arabic deserts, Hopkins cleans up his act and enters the race as its only Western competitor. A long-ass horse race ensues...
A fun/schmaltzy action adventure Disney flick complete with rousing score, picturesque shots and corny dialogue ("Even a blind man could see that you're beautiful") that nonetheless manages to entertain by the way of several exciting action pieces, a brisk pace, a good relationship between a man and his horse and the undeniable charisma and presence that comes in the form of its lead actor: Viggo Mortensen (aka Aragorn). I've been a fan of Mortensen for some time now and I only hope that this film gives him a little more of the notoriety and respect that he deserves. This movie isn't going to blow anyone away with its story or characterization (the lead Arab "bad guy" is a caricature), but it's a jolly ol' time at the theater and despite running about two hours, manages to keep you interested and on the side of Hidalgo throughout (by the end, I wanted to jump onto the screen and ride that damn horse over the finish line myself!) Unlike SEABISCUIT, which was also based on a "true story" (Note to studios: stop bullshitting the public and jotting that down under every movie title-especially if you're gonna change half the crap that really happened anyway!), this film gears itself more towards the fantastic a la MUMMY or THE PERFECT STORM, with plenty of physical obstacles, standing in the way of our hero and his loving mustang.
It also tosses a few "subtle" undertones in there, one of which features Viggo's "mixed blood" background and that similar connection to his horse (this was mildly successful), and the general idea of the "American way" vs the ways of the Middle East, where they seem to praise and rely more on the "will of Allah" (God) as opposed to the Americanized notion of the "will of one self". This latter insert was a little more successful, but again, wasn't overemphasized to the point of being the film's lead rudder in any way. At the end of the day, this is a chase movie focusing on an underdog and his under-horse, both of whom are past their prime, but both of whom, still have a lot of grit, dedication and persistence left in their souls (not to mention, great manes!) It's also to note that the film overdoes its subtitles somewhat, with many of the Indians' dialogue subtitled, as well as plenty of the Arabic stuff, both of which got a little tiresome, especially since the film isn't exactly a force of narrative. But if you like horses (I don't, yet I still enjoyed the movie), appreciate the rugged good looks and talent of Viggo Mortensen and don't mind a little Disney syrup poured all over a tale of the underdog, HIDALGO may be just what you're looking for this time of year.
(c) 2016 Berge Garabedian