Jump Cuts and Loose Ends
S. Schell | Mason, OH United States | 05/04/2001
(3 out of 5 stars)
""It's the most fun I've ever had working on a film," Matt Damon gushed in one of numerous interviews for director Billy Bob Thornton's western epic, an adaptation of the novel by Cormac McCarthy that originally hit bookstore shelves back in 1992. Sad to say, Mr. Damon, it wasn't so fun to WATCH Thornton's finished product. "All The Pretty Horses" is like trying to interpret someone's bad dream, all scattered images and unintelligible action thrown together in a two-hour video. It is obvious in the first 30 minutes of "ATPH" that integral parts of the film were cut to fill a specific time frame. Enormous amounts of footage that would've made the film more understandable and perhaps even more enjoyable ended up on the cutting room floor due to squabbles between Thornton and studio execs. From what would've been a potentially long film (almost four hours, to be exact) it was severely sliced down to a mere 116 minutes by the hacksaw editors at Miramax and the film suffers greatly because of it. The story is as follows: John Grady Cole (Damon) is a young man in late 1940's Texas who dreams of living the life of a prosperous rancher. He is determined to see and experience the old frontier before it disappears for good and makes a plan to travel to Mexico on horse with his good friend Lacy Rawlins (Thomas). On route, they meet tough-talking teen Jimmy Blevins, a young fugitive traversing the desert landscape on a stolen horse. He leaves the entourage only days later, dodging authorities for a second-theft of the same nature. Sans Blevins, John and Lacy cross the border and find work taming wild steeds for a man named Rocha, the most prestigious rancher in the area. Trouble brews when good ol' John falls for Rocha's beautiful daughter Alejandra (Cruz). Despite the tumult that their interracial relationship will cause, they begin seeing each other in secret and fall madly in love. About fifteen minutes after John and Alejandra are officially an item (it occurs so quickly - it's almost implausible), he and Lacy are detained by the local captain for murder and meet up with Blevins again when they are thrown into a filthy cell with him after their arrest. John and Lacy do time in a Mexican penitentiary (don't know how long; hard to tell) and Alejandra is completely out of the picture for the next hour. It's at about this point in the movie that people who have not read McCarthy's novel will be thinking, "What's the hell's going on here?" They have good reason to ask this question, for nothing makes sense because of Thornton's massive amount of missing footage (probably about an hour and a half's worth, if I carefully judge). What will really boggle people is the relationship between John and Alejandra. The dialogue between them is too insubstantial and vague; their wordless exchanges aren't nearly enough to justify their instantaneous love affair. In a matter of minutes, John and Alejandra go from perfect strangers to voracious paramours, a tangle of limbs beneath the sheets. You don't see any emotional growth to their relationship. Instead, it's...BAM - they're in love! Cruz's Alejandra is reticent one moment and in the next moment knocking on Damon's bedroom door every night for a romantic rendezvous. Even their love scenes are shown in jump cuts, each shot of them kissing and embracing only seconds long. Fade in, fade out - and that's the way it goes. There is no insight to gain for their sudden chemistry and their heartrending romance. Of course, this is due to the faulty editing that is so apparent throughout the whole movie. Many other defects stand out to the ardent observer. For example, Henry Thomas and Matt Damon look not the least bit rugged in their travails across the border. There is not a millimeter of stubble visible on their baby faces, even after several days in the rough and unforgiving terrain of Texas and Mexico with no hygiene whatsoever, not to mention an arduous stint in a filthy and fearsome penitentiary. They remain clean-shaven through it all. Not very realistic, if you ask me.It is hard for me to critique most of the performances in this film because of all the missing pieces, but I will say this: Lucas Black RULED the screen. Black was the high of the lows and a welcome spark to the extensive and languorous shots of the Mexican range. Cocksure and completely resolved to keep both his horse and gun to his minute list of possessions, Black's strong-headed Blevins is a spunky refresher when someone becomes bored with John and Lacy's dreamy trek across the border.Despite its greatest flaw, "All The Pretty Horses" still manages to come off as a striking and meaningful piece of work from a progressive director. I sincerely hope that within the next year, Thornton releases a director's cut version on DVD so that audiences predisposed to shunning this insufferable edition will get a chance to see Thornton's original and complete vision before the production axe came down with a loud and deadly crack."
You ain't never been struck by lightning.
A. Gyurisin | Wet, Wild, Wonderful Virginia | 03/02/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I don't think I will ever understand the disappointing backlash against this film. What I witnessed was not your typical "western" film full of passionate love and implausible events. Instead, what I saw was beautifully captured images, powerful acting by Damon and Thomas, a story that twisted further down a darkened rabbit hole than I was expecting, and this challenging character study that gave us a brief insight to a world that will never be seen by our eyes again. This was not the romantic film that it was marketed as, this was not the adventure that it was marketed as, but instead it was the story of one character and the tribulations that effect him on his journey into the real world. It is the story of a very compassionate man that sees the honest darkness of those around him and must face the consequences of his actions. It showcases amazing acting that may be a bit disturbing for the unfamiliar eye, but to me was nothing short of brilliant. Billy Bob successfully adapted the story from the page, but it was not the film that he wanted. Miramax butchered this film in the marketing aspect, which ultimately hurt it overall. I will never understand why this did not receive the praise it should have, but will never be ashamed to bring it out for friends and family to enjoy. This film was like finding a dollar in the couch, an unexpected surprise that keeps a smile on your face the rest of the day.
I have read several reviews that just completely dismantle Damon's acting in this film. While his accent does fade in and out randomly, it is the way that he carries himself and reacts to the situations that unfold before him that really showcase the true acting ability of this star. While I do not think that Bennifer has made the best choices to challenge his career, Damon continually proves that he has the ability to be a force in Hollywood. This film alone proves it. He built this beautiful chemistry between him and Cruz that teetered on fear and sorrow. He showed his compassion towards Blevins and Lacey continually throughout the film showing that his idea of friendship was stronger than anyone expected. His strength and will shined brightly when he was ultimately faced with death. These are all moments where other actors would have cheapened it up and tried to fake the audience instead of showing the truth. I thought Damon showed us honesty, he showed us a part of him that I was not expecting. If you couldn't tell already, he really impressed me. But yet so did everyone else in this film. I honestly thought that the kid from Sling Blade, Lucas Black, would never work again, and I was skeptical of him in this film, but he was exceptional. He took us away from his character in Sling Blade and built a whole new name for himself. He took the challenges of this character and pushed them out of the television. The same can be said for Henry Thomas that continues to impress me with his ability to capture his moments and make them so real. Finally, Billy Bob did a great job of casting the rest of this film to bring the images and feelings of the time period to light. I could feel the dusty world of Texas and Mexico through the smaller characters that he cast.
Speaking of Billy Bob, could we not agree that these actors wouldn't have been half as good if it were not for the amazing direction behind the camera. I wish that I could have seen his version of the film instead of the choppy Miramax version. He has a very gifted eye, and while sometimes he takes roles that I think blur that eye, he always seems to rebound with a very riveting performance. He is constantly experimenting with genres and styles, and this film shows that he can break traditional boundaries. The images that he captured on film help create this darkness that surrounded our main characters. The scene with the thunderstorm I thought was beautiful, as was the rolling Mexican landscape. He places us into the film as more than just observers, and that is a sign of a great director.
Finally, I would like to pose the question of why Grady was so infatuated with Blevins? There were several moments during the film where he could have simply walked away from the boy, and Lacey even suggested it continually, but they always stayed with him. I realize that a main reason may be to develop the plot, but I think there was a more symbolic meaning. I feel that Damon connected with the boy because they had a kindred spirit. Damon was this passive, controlled character that never really understood himself until later on in the film, while Blevins was this wild-hair that never controlled himself or thought about his decisions. It was as if they were polar opposites, but yet they were perfectly matched. I think Damon liked him because it was what he aspired to be. I sometimes felt that the secondary characters were not real, and sometimes they were just imaginary images of what Damon wanted himself to be more like. This thought created a much darker picture for me that forced this film to go deeper into my mind and be more enjoyable than I thought.
Overall, I really liked this film. While others will definitely disagree, I thought that the acting, story, and especially the direction deserved more attention that what was handed to it.
Grade: ***** out of *****"
All the Pretty ZZZZZZZZZ's
C. Miller | Portland, OR | 05/30/2001
(2 out of 5 stars)
"In an interview on "Oprah", Matt Damon said he wished he could make "All the Pretty Horses" forever. To the audience, it almost seems like he did. The film is sort of like the Energizer Bunny -- it keeps going and going and going and going and just when you think it's going to end, something else (often incoherently) happens to extend the film another ten minutes. The running time may amount to roughly two hours, but it feels much longer. I have not read Cormac McCarthy's novel on which the film is based, but I have seen enough film adaptations to know that the transition is not always smooth. However, I can't say who should take the blame, McCarthy or director Billy Bob Thornton, for the overlong plot or underdeveloped characters. Technically a western, the plot is not so much incoherent as it is boring. Matt Damon and Henry Thomas play John Grady and Rawlings, two west Texas cowboys with nothing left at home, so they set off to Mexico, where a variety of complications ensue. They meet a scrappy 16-year-old named Blevins (Lucas Black) along the way. He suggests that he did something bad to his abusive stepfather, and John Grady and Rawlins know that the beautiful horse he's riding can't be his. But the audience never really finds out much more. Polite people would say it adds to his mystery. In reality, Blevins's character, like nearly every other character, is a victim of over-editing. After his horse runs off in a thunderstorm, John Grady and Rawlins help Blevins steal it back, something that comes back to haunt them. They eventually end up working on a Mexican ranch. John Grady meets the ranchers beautiful daughter Alejandra (played flatly by a boring Penelope Cruz) and decides he's fallen in love with her. Basically, the relationship consists of John Grady ogling Alejandra like a piece of meat while Alejandra looks coyly at him. You don't believe him at all when he tells her, "I'll love you till the day I die," and Cruz turns what didn't have to be a thankless role into that of "the love interest". Thankfully, John Grady and Rawlins are hauled off to a Mexican prison for aiding Blevins in stealing his horse before we're subjected to any more of the alleged lovers mooning over each other. Grady and Rawlins meet up with Blevins again, who this time is accused of murdering three people. I suppose I shouldn't give away the end, so you'll just have to find out what happens for yourself, if you manage to stay awake that long. This film seems to be a victim of too much editing and too little characterization. The actors show a great deal of potential, but they are never given the chance to develop their characters into something interesting and worthwhile, so you ultimately do not care about them. Furthermore, the plot is so full of holes that it obliterates any chance for consistency. Director Billy Bob Thornton has shown his ability to make offbeat, original films in the past, but he doesn't really show anything special in this film. Perhaps a director's cut will reveal something new. To its credit, the cinematography is absolutely beautiful and the spare yet poignant soundtrack fits the setting extremely well. It is unfortunate that the other elements (acting, directing, writing) could not be incorporated into what could have been a decent film."
A very boring movie!
J. Sutherland | Southport, North Carolina United States | 08/16/2001
(1 out of 5 stars)
"I actually had pretty good expectations of this movie going into it even though it screamed chick flic. And I thought, "Matt damon is a pretty good actor maybe he will make the film interesting." Matt Damon could not save this film, neither could Penelope Cruz or any of the actors. The problem with it is the story. Some of the parts in the film seemed so unrelated and random. Like, for instance, there is a scene where Matt's character is mourning the death of his father in the beginning of the movie. He is talking about who is going to take over the farm or something and then nothing happens. He just travels down to Mexico to be a cowboy. And the love affair between Penelope and Damon's characters is boring and uninspired. Before they actually "hooked up" all they did was exchange a couple of glances at eachother. There is no build-up to their affair they just decide to hook-up. This film is full of these actions that have no motive behind them. For this reason the film is hard to get into because you don't really understand the characters. This movie is just a collection of unrelated scenes and facts thrown together in hopes of making a compelling and passionate drama film. Unfortunately, it fails in every aspect. I think the problem with it is the adaptation from novel to film. The story actually had some potential but it's like every time it was getting interesting it became even more boring. Probably the fault of the director Billy Bob Thorton, or one of the screenwriters. Other than the eye candy that Damon and Cruz serve as, this film is a yawn."