Suppose Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid never got shot in that gun fight in Bolivia? Suppose your aunt had balls, well then she’d be your uncle. Supposing don’t make it so, but supposing is what Blackthorn is all about.
Sam Shepard plays James Blackthorn – Robert LeRoy Parker to his mother and Butch Cassidy to the law. Luckily for him he wasn’t shot dead and has escaped to the hills of Bolivia to live out his life in peace and tranquillity. The film opens with Shepard narrating a letter he has written to his nephew informing him of his return to America having learnt that the boy’s mother had died. The boy’s mother happens to be Etta Place, Sundance’s sweetheart, himself having died not long after the escape to Bolivia. So Butch sets about putting his affairs in order for the trip north, but when he comes across Eduardo (Eduardo Noriega) who is on the run from a band of “cowboys”, Butch finds himself getting into more scrapes than a man of his age would like.
Mateo Gil’s film is basically a tourist video for Bolivia, with its breathtaking scenery without doubt the best character. The main problem I have is its premise which is based on fiction with no facts to back up any of its suppositions. Now this is fine, but why use the story and classic 1969 film as a reference point instead of coming up with your own idea? The film would have worked fine without the inclusion of Cassidy and co. It’s done to lure you in because you liked the original and sure you might like this too. It’s not a remake but with the flashbacks and set-pieces reminiscent of the source material you can’t help but wonder if Mateo would have been happier doing a remake.
Shepard (pictured above) is too tall, good-looking and distinguished, more like Robert Redford who played the Sundance kid than Paul Newman’s Butch. This is exaggerated even more in the flashbacks with Nikolaj Coster-Waldau playing Butch but looking more like Sawyer from Lost. Again, who cares, it’s not real and is a new take on things, but people (especially me) are going to draw comparisons and the film really jarred as a result. The performances overall are good, Padraic Delaney putting in a solid performance as a young Sundance and Stephen Rea, although only having a few scenes, manages to portray the stupidity of their antics and his weariness of the game.
The film is really a modern western along the lines of Eastwood’s Unforgiven. It doesn’t glorify the violence, no one comes out smelling of roses and we get an idea of what it must have been like to be a cowboy, ass-chaffing and all. The climax is satisfying, slightly unexpected and on the whole the film is a worthy attempt at the western. However the ghosts of the original haunt the piece, and having left the film you just want to settle down and become reacquainted with Paul and Robert.
Spain, USA, Bolivia / Directed By: Mateo Gil / Written By: Miguel Barros / Starring:Sam Shepard, Eduardo Noriega and Stephen Rea / 102min / Western / Release: 13 April 2012 (Irl/UK), Release: 7 October 2011 (USA)