Yet again Hollywood exploits another massacre, that of the Sioux Indians at Wounded Knee. What better way to kick start Hidalgo; the story of a horse and his man who set out to prove that it ain’t pure blood, but will that matters, by racing 3000 miles in an inhospitable desert dubbed “the ocean of fire” against hostile and blood thirsty A-rabs. However, armed with his weapon of mass destruction – a Colt gun – he defends himself against their tricksy little planses and makes it through. As an audience member I too had to make an epic journey – one through endless fades between sandy landscapes, countless sunsets with silhouetted riders, shots of hooves on dry mud, and an overwrought score worthy of Howard Shore. However Hidalgo fits into that category of so bad it’s hilarious. A must-see for the unintentional Blazing Saddles factor.
Frank (Viggo Mortensen) is a stubble- covered, “partner” drawling cowboy; under that leathery brown complexion, a sensitive guy trying to hide from his past (he should have all you Aragorn groupies out there titillated). The performance that struck me however was that of his horse, Hidalgo, the skewbald mustang. Providing comic relief in intense moments, he performs feats such as untying his rope, coming to his master’s whistle and punishing baddies. The nuances in his performance such as nostril flaring, terrified googly eyes, whinnies of various range and pitch, and slight muscular twitches making his performance not just good, but brilliant. He’s got stamina, too! Amazingly, even after being partially impaled on a stake and then collapsing on the hot desert, about to be mercy shot, Hidalgo manages to get up and bear Frank over the finish line first (in slo-mo of course). The relationship between the man and his horse is about the only believable thing in the movie. As Frank puts it “you can criticise me, but not me horse”; when Hidalgo likes a girl she gets a frank stamp of approval. When they ride off into the sunset away from the girl Frank says, “we won’t forget yeh.”
In a moving scene on a boat, Frank looks patriotically at The Statue of Liberty. This land of the free, however, is starkly contrasted when the boat reaches its destination and we are greeted with the expected representation of a primitive Arab world. Frank gazes astonished at an African slave in chains – like he hasn’t seen one of them before. A particularly deep bit is when Frank acknowledges that he is half Indian (after a grotesque hallucination of his ancestors ghost dancing – some weird warp technique is used and they all look obese); shedding the saddle of colonial repression he and Hidalgo go on to win bareback. They then frolic in the foaming waves while the A-rabs dance around wildly chanting “Cowboy, cowboy”. In fact the scenes were rather reminiscent of those CNN images of emancipated Iraqis dancing in the streets of Basra – who knows, they could have been from the same extra agency.
Directed by Joe Johnstone