"Hidalgo" stands out as the year's best adventure film so far

Source: Maryland Gazette

© Touchstone / Buena Vista Pictures.
In his new film Hidalgo, Viggo Mortensen makes a solid follow-up to his star making turn in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, that while not as epic as his most recent work, is a entertaining adventure for both horse and action enthusiasts.

Hidalgo is based on the autobiography of distance rider Frank T. Hopkins (Mortensen) and his mustang, Hidalgo.

Hopkins made a name for himself in the late 1800s as the best long distance rider/dispatch, but after the tragedy that he helped cause in his last courier mission, Hopkins spends his time drinking his life away while performing in a travelling Western show.

Representatives of Sheikh Riyadh (Omar Sharif) attend Hopkins' latest show and invite him to participate in the annual Ocean of Fire, a 3,000-mile survival race across the Arabian Desert.

The race is exclusive to royal Arabian families but the Sheikh makes an exception since he has issues with Hopkins' claim that Hidalgo is the world's fastest horse.

Hopkins' participation in the race doesn't sit well with many of the competitors, who don't believe that an American will be able to survive the contest and in some cases, actively plot to stop him from finishing the race.

Mortensen makes for a great leading man and this role is a smart follow-up for him as it isn't a major deviation from his Lord of the Rings role, yet different enough to prove that he won't get typecast as his LOTR character Aragorn.

His Hopkins is likable and, like any great character, has a demon that he has to fight outside of the elements and the other riders - his past and his true heritage.

With so much of the film consisting of a race, Mortensen doesn't really have that many people outside of his horse to interact with for large portions of the film, but fortunately Hidalgo actually has some charisma to him so Mortensen doesn't carry the load all by his lonesome.

When the supporting characters do make their appearances, they are fairly interesting, particularly Louise Lombard who plays Lady Anne Davenport, the black widow-esque character who wants to do a little more than discuss horse breeding with Hopkins.

Surprisingly, the film's best scenes occur when Hopkins is off Hidalgo and operating more as an Indiana Jones-type character - rescuing the Sheikh's daughter, assisting his fellow riders and showing off his gun tricks while battling sword-wielding Arabians - than as horse rider extraordinaire. It's in these scenes that the film gets really interesting and serves as a nice break from the horse racing.

At two hours and twenty five minutes, Hidalgo's a bit too long for its own good as Director Joe Johnston attempts to make the film more than it really is - which is the story of a man and his horse trying to complete a race. There's only so many times that the audience can watch Hopkins battle fatigue, the elements and his fellow riders before it loses some of its emotional impact on the viewer.

Johnston wants to convey just how much Hopkins and Hidalgo have to face in completing the race, but he has gotten too attached to what he's filmed and doesn't appear to have left any additional footage for the special features of the DVD. A little bit of editing would have done wonders for the pace and intensify the film's truly dramatic moments, such as the sandstorm scene.

Still, it's hard to argue with Johnston's fascination with his subject matter as the concept of a man and his horse racing across the Arabian Desert does indeed make for a unique plot. With a nice mix of Indiana Jones and Seabiscuit, Hidalgo easily stands out as the year's best adventure film so far and an ideal film for anyone looking for their next fix of Mortensen, who proves that he has a future in Hollywood beyond LOTR.
Last edited: 8 March 2009 11:15:11
© Maryland Gazette.