By Shawn McKenzie 03/08/2004
I guess many people are upset by Hidalgo being a little far fetched in its telling of the story of Frank T. Hopkins, but even if it is, I don’t care. I just judge it as a movie, and it has a surprising amount of boring parts in it.
This movie is supposedly “based on the life of Frank T. Hopkins,” but if you took one look at any of the trailers, you’d realize that they stretched the truth somewhat. It takes place in 1890 and former cavalry/Pony Express man Frank T. Hopkins (Viggo Mortensen) and his painted mustang Hidalgo are performers in Buffalo Bill Cody’s (J.K. Simmons) Wild West Show. He is a drunk because he feels guilty for delivering the telegram that gave the orders that started the American Indian massacre at the Battle of Wounded Knee Creek just eight months earlier. Since his mother was an Indian, he had one-half Native American blood in him, so it was personal (the tribe called him Blue Child, or Far Rider.) He has built up a reputation though as one of the greatest long-distance horseback racers in the West, and this ticks off the Arabian Sheikh Riyadh (Omar Sharif), who’s in love with stories of America’s Old West. He thinks that it is an insult that Frank claims that Hidalgo is the fastest horse in the world. The Sheikh considers only pureblood thoroughbreds as worthy horses, not mustangs. He sends his emissary, Aziz (Adam Alexi-Malle), to invite Frank to the “Ocean of Fire,” a 3,000-mile race across the Arabian Desert. Frank would be the first foreigner to take part in the race that has been held annually for many years. He doesn’t want to do it at first, but Annie Oakley (Elizabeth Berridge) starts a collection that earns him his entry fee. The $100,000 winning purse finally convinces him to race. When he gets there, he meets several people who have different opinions about him being there. Aside from the Sheikh, he meets his strong-willed daughter, Jazira (Zuleikha Robinson), who doesn’t like having all her decisions made for her, including which men she is allowed to interact with. He also meets Major Davenport (Malcolm McDowell) and Lady Anne Davenport (Louise Lombard), the latter of which is an aristocrat from a long line of horse breeders who wants to have her horse win in order to secure stud rights with Al Hattal, the Sheikh’s Arabian stallion, whom she considers the perfect horse. Katib (Silas Carson), the Sheikh’s nephew, wants to obtain the family’s horse breeding papers, and uses devious methods in order to get them. Frank is also assigned an unwanted assistant, Yusef (Harsh Nayyar), but a slave boy (Franky Mwangi) that Frank rescues becomes more of a help to him. Most of the racers and their rides won’t even come close to reaching the finish line, but he and Hidalgo are determined to win. Along the way, he must battle sandstorms, locusts, and the other riders, such as Prince Bin Al Reeh (Saïd Taghmaoui), who looks down on Frank and Hidalgo as “infidels.”
I had never heard of Hopkins before this movie, but I had seen the trailers. That big shot with the sandstorm chasing Frank looked cool, so I was expecting an Indiana Jones rip-off in the least. While it does do some Indy stuff (swordplay, exciting rescues, etc.), it actually rips-off The Last Samurai as well (drunk American feels guilty over the massacre of Indians and goes oversea for a paycheck.) It’s funny…since I thought Samurai had ripped off Dances with Wolves (I don’t think Hidalgo ripped off Wolves though.)
The problem is that it has too many slow parts that drag down the movie. That surprised me, since Joe Johnston, the man who helmed the shortest of the Jurassic Park movies, Jurassic Park III, directed this movie. He also did Jumanji as well, which, as I recall, was pretty tight as well. Why did he allow this movie to be so long? He used Robert Dalva, his film editor, on all three movies, so I’m baffled.
For the parts that didn’t drag, it wasn’t too bad. Mortensen did a great scruffy cowboy act, and I think he has proven that he can carry a movie. I don’t have an overwhelming love for Sharif like other film geeks (probably because I hated Lawrence of Arabia and Doctor Zhivago), but he was okay. The action and special effects were impressive and exciting, especially the sandstorm scene. The action scenes were well choreographed, however Indy-like they were.
I hope that Johnston and Mortensen work together again on another project. Johnston will just have to crack the whip on his editor Dalva though, because he let Hidalgo get too long. Maybe he can borrow Indy’s…I mean Frank’s whip.
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