Hidalgo (2004)

(In French, On TV, January 2017) I’m not much of a horse guy, and Hidalgo is clearly designed to be a movie about a man and his horse. As a late-nineteenth-century cowboy head over to the Middle East to compete in a desert race, this is an adventure story in which the various women encountered by our protagonist don’t ever measure up to his affection for his own horse. It’s not a short film—once you factor in the lengthy prologue, various desert adventures, lengthy pans of the arid scenery, theme-juggling and various character-building moments, Hidalgo clocks at almost two hours and a half. (For a film about a long-distance desert race, the race itself often takes a back seat to other more pressing matters.) Fortunately, there is something good at the heart of it all. Thanks to director Joe Johnston, the action sequences are capably put together and the adventure eventually gets a good sense of forward rhythm. Thanks to Viggo Mortensen, the protagonist earns our respect and pinto mustang Hidalgo himself makes quite an impression. Meanwhile, Louise Lombard and Zuleikha Robinson bring a welcome female presence to what could have been a mostly male story. In an effort to deliver a movie that has as much stuff as possible, Hidalgo also brews a complex mixture of thematic concerns, from a stranger-in-a-strange land narrative to a man-and-his-horse romance to more prosaic survival and rescue segments. As rousing desert adventures go (judiciously ignoring claims of it being “based on a true story”), Hidalgo is often better than most, even though some judicious cutting could have improved things for audiences who aren’t quite as much into horses and deserts as the filmmakers.

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