"Each man has a song and this is my song." (Leonard Cohen)

Friday, November 30, 2012

Blackthorn (16 production companies listed, 2011)

Butch Cassidy lives!


Of course Butch Cassidy didn’t die in that shoot-out in Bolivia at the end of the movie. He’s alive and serving behind the cold meats counter in my supermarket. Alongside Elvis.

We all love to speculate that Butch and Sundance weren’t the ones shot down by the Bolivian armed forces that day. Wikipedia tells us that there were claims, such as by Butch’s sister Lula Parker Betenson, that he returned to the United States and lived there anonymously for years. Various people, including Butch’s doctor, are said to have known him back in the States in the 1920s.


But the evidence doesn’t stack up to much, pards, I am afraid.  It really looks like Robert LeRoy Parker and Harry Alonzo Longabaugh perished in November 1908 near San Vicente, Bolivia, after they had taken part in a mining payroll robbery.

Still, the notion that they got away lingers and many believe it. (Never underestimate people’s credulity). And the idea was strong enough to fuel a recent film, Blackthorn. I saw it at a movie theater (always the best way) when it came out last year and again the other night on TV.

It’s very good.

I would say that it’s a gritty modern Western in the proper tradition. Sam Shepard is excellent as the aging Parker/Cassidy, now going under the name of Blackthorn. Although Sundance didn’t survive that shoot-out (and his end is graphically and tragically described), Butch did and he is now living a quiet life raising horses on a hill farm, visited by a Bolivian lover but still nervously scanning the wanted posters and keeping his hat down over his eyes when he goes to the bank.

It’s well directed by Spaniard Mateo Gil, his only Western, and although the movie is certainly not fast-paced, being pretty much a chase yarn, it does build tension. So well done, Señor Gil. There’s another Spaniard, this time a Basque, Juan Ruiz Anchía, behind the lens (he also did September Dawn, not a great film but attractive visually) and the La Paz, Potosí and Uyuni locations are very fine indeed. We get a sense of arid beauty.

Of the supporting cast, Eduardo Noriega, another Spaniard (but playing a Spaniard) is alright. No complaints. Best by far, though, is Stephen Rea as the broke-down, worn-out ex-Pinkerton man Mackinley. He is magnificent. We understand his passion, almost obsession, with catching the bandit pair yet now, as an old, alcoholic honorary consul, when his nemesis finally arrives after all these years, he can’t cope. He is a genuinely tragic figure. Northern Irishman but Dublin resident Mr. Rea (you see it’s a pretty Eurowestern all in all) does, frankly, a wonderful job.

Padraic Delaney, guess what, another Irishman, does a fair job with his flashback-limited part as Sundance and manages to look a bit like young Redford (though not really much like Longabaugh).

There’s quite a good twist in the tale (or tail). Straight chase-stories can be a bit slow-moving (they go at the pace of a walking horse, mostly) and they need a little extra spice to pep them up. This story has that. So well done the writer, Miguel Barros.

I wonder where he comes from?

Anyway, pardners, if you haven’t seen Blackthorn, mosey along to your local movie theater, or if you have to watch it on TV get one of those big screens. You won’t regret it.

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