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Film Review: ‘Blackthorn’ Offers Wistful Rethinking of Butch Cassidy Legend
CHICAGO – Western buffs have often criticized George Roy Hill’s 1969 classic, “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” for romanticizing its subject matter to the point where it felt less concerned about its titular criminals and more interested in the friendship between stars Paul Newman and Robert Redford. Yet for all of the charm in William Goldman’s script, there was an underlying darkness and tragic poignance that allowed the final act to pack an unforgettable punch.
Moviegoers seeking similar thrills from “Blackthorn” will be sorely disappointed. It’s an unremarkable low-key rethinking of the Butch Cassidy legend, devoid of the whimsy and excitement that made the Newman/Redford film such a kick. Though it certainly isn’t an embarrassing misfire like 1979’s regrettable “Butch and Sundance: The Early Years,” it fails in its aspirations to leave an equally iconic imprint of the oft-mythologized tale. It mainly serves as an Oscar baiting showcase for star Sam Shepard, who’s fine but hardly in Jeff Bridges territory.
|Read Matt Fagerholm’s full review of “Blackthorn” in our reviews section.|
Miguel Barros’ script bases its premise off the conceit that Butch and Sundance’s death in the 1908 Bolivian standoff was based on unsubstantiated evidence. The film opens 19 years later, as the exiled Cassidy (living under the alias of James Blackthorn) is whiling away his days in silence and seclusion. His Bolivian housekeeper, Yana (Magaly Solier), is the sole bright spot of his weary days, as he composes letters to the son he’s never seen, and perhaps never will. Flashbacks to the immortal escapades of Cassidy and his deceased friend Sundance fail to capture the chemistry and brotherhood that made these men such memorable larger-than-life figures. These scenes also leave no shadow of a doubt that Etta Place fancied Butch over Sundance, and on the basis of the Kid’s thick-headed portrayal, it’s easy to understand why. We get no sense of why anyone would follow Sundance to the ends of the earth, let alone Bolivia. This may seem like a minor plot detail in the grand scheme of “Blackthorn,” but it sticks out like a sore thumb to anyone familiar with Hill’s indelible portrayal of the beloved characters. It’s difficult to imagine many moviegoers yearning to see Cassidy grow up to be a grumpy old codger rather than go out in a blaze of glory.
Sam Shepard stars in Mateo Gil’s Blackthorn.
Photo credit: Magnolia Pictures