Saturday, October 4, 2008

All the Pretty Horses (2000) is momentary off-line
Some passions can never be tamed.

Adapted from Cormac McCarthy's award-winning novel, All the Pretty Horses cries for epic length but runs only 112 minutes for theatrical release. Drastically shortened during a lengthy stretch between production and release, this operatic drama feels as if huge chunks are missing, and what remains are fragments of a masterpiece that might have been. Unless a more definitive version is revealed, we must settle for this faint echo of McCarthy's ambitious narrative, in which dispossessed Texas rancher John Grady Cole (Matt Damon) ventures to Mexico in 1949 to revive his fading dreams of cowboy glory. With best friend Lacey Rawlins (Henry Thomas), Cole's odyssey takes him from youthful idealism to rugged, often horrific, and ultimately ennobling tests of integrity.

Much of Cole's ordeal is sparked by his forbidden love for Alejandra (Penelope Cruz), the beautiful daughter of his Mexican employer, whose family honor is threatened by their mutual attraction. A gunslinging teenager (Lucas Black) casts a black cloud over them all, and All the Pretty Horses becomes a test of Cole's ability to navigate a labyrinth of distorted truth, imprisonment, and hard-fought redemption. All of which begs for emotional depth and carefully developed characters, but this truncated film lacks both. Scenes jump from one to the next with obvious gaps between them, lending no opportunity for emotional investment. It's clear that director Billy Bob Thornton is attempting to redefine the Western, and the effort is laudable on many points, notably in its perfect match of visuals and a flavorful musical score. There's much to admire in this film, making its shortcomings all the more lamentable. --Jeff Shannon

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