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Spain/France/Bolivia/UK 2011
Directed by
Mateo Gil
102 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3.5 stars


Anyone who has seen George Roy Hill’s1969 box office smash Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969) will remember the iconic freeze frame of Paul Newman and Robert Redford with which it ended. It provided not just a neat close to the film but acknowledged that the fate of the two criminals is not definitively known though it is generally believed that they died in a hail of bullets in 1908 in Bolivia where they had fled from the long arm of U.S law.

With Blackthorn first time feature director Mateo Gil and his scriptwriter Miguel Barros suggest that the two men did not die in 1908 but continued their criminal career with Butch eventually retiring, a gnarly and reclusive horse breeder in the backwoods of Bolivia.

The film begins in 1928 with Butch (Sam Shepard), now calling himself James Blackthorn, writing to his nephew, the son of Sundance (or perhaps Butch) and Etta Place (Dominique McElligott) announcing his decision to return to the U.S. He sells his livestock and heads north. He’s not gone far before he is ambushed but Butch, who has lost none of his survival skills, bests the would-be robber, Eduardo (Eduardo Noriega) although his horse runs away and with it the $6000 Butch had amassed for his new life. Eduardo tells Butch he stole $50,000 from a mining millionaire and that if he helps him retrieve the money from an abandoned mine he will make it up to him and so the two set off overcoming various set-backs along the way.

Anyone expecting a reboot of Hill’s original film will be disappointed (as it seems many U.S. reviewers were). But this really is its strength. Despite calling on many of the tropes of the Hollywood Western the pace is measured and tone reflective as befits the story of the world-weary but indefatigable outlaw in his twilight years. Elegantly photographed by Juan Ruiz Anchia who makes good use of the wide screen and the changing settings: from a cabin deep in the lush Bolivian jungle to scrubby open ranges and a bone-white salt plain, are used well to frame Butch's story.

Shepard’s performance can probably be counted the best of his career. A highly esteemed playwright whose works are steeped frontier/outsider lore his casting was a brilliant choice. British actor Stephen Rea also makes an impressive contribution as a Pinkerton detective who has been dreaming of catching Butch for twenty years, only to realize, goal achieved, that it was the journey not the destination that mattered. Noriega is photogenic but doesn't have much to do beyond being a catalyst for the narrative.

The use of flashbacks to explain what happened to the infamous duo in the intervening two decades is a tad awkward, on the one hand impeding the forward momentum of the overall story on the other especially distracting as Nikolaj Coster-Waldau and Padraic Delaney look nothing like Newman or Redford, and Coster-Waldau playing the younger Butch in the flashbacks looking nothing like Shepherd. Delaney’s presence is however largely peripheral, as is that of McElligott.

Somewhat reminiscent of Danish director Kristian Levring's stylish 2014 revenge Western The Salvation European directors seem to be taking to the classic Hollywood genre unburdened by the constraints of the form. The result is a welcome one.




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