Hidalgo Movie Review

According to history, for centuries a 3,000 mile race known as the "Ocean of Fire" was run by young thoroughbred horses across the Arabian Desert. This race is the focal point of Hidalgo - a story about a man and his titular horse, who in 1890, surprised the world by winning. What's unclear is that this race may not have taken place!

As the story goes, Hidalgo was considered a long shot to win the race because he was a Mustang, in a race of faster, stronger Arabians. Hidalgo appealed to a wealthy Sheik (Omar Sharif) who brought the horse and its legendary rider Frank T. Hopkins (Viggo Mortensen) from the United States halfway across the world to participate. Despite a potential claim for fame and fortune, Frank is participating for entirely personal reasons. Frank wants to help his half-blood Indian tribe buy back land from the U.S. government that they can use to raise their horses.

Director Joe Johnston's vision on-screen is much more complicated than the history would suggest. While traveling across the Arabian Desert, Frank and Hidalgo run into numerous renegade Bedouin riders and their owners who will stop at nothing to prevent the infidel rider from completing the race. The pair becomes the target of so many rebels that it is difficult to keep track of them all. In fact, there is so little information we're privy to about the other riders, even if we could tell them apart, we'd be hard pressed to care anyhow.

The same can be said for Frank and Hidalgo. Because we're given very few details about Frank, it's tough to commit to his cause. Frank says very little in his journey across the desert and when he does, it's only to Hidalgo. (I kept hoping Hidalgo would pull a Mr. Ed and talk back.) Except for a moment where Hidalgo gets injured, the race hardly appears to affect the pair. As the scenes transpire across their desert journey, Frank looks just as rested as he did at the beginning of the race, and Hidalgo makes a miraculous recovery from his injury in time for a final sprint to the finish line.

With all of its indistinguishable characters, Hidalgo just doesn't work in its present form. This may add credence to all the rumors that the real Frank T. Hopkins is a fraud, and that this race never took place. Regardless, it is one of the most beautifully photographed movies in recent memory. There is such a richness and saturation to the colors of Shelly Johnson's cinematography that Hidalgo is intoxicating to watch.

It's just too bad that these striking elements are wasted in what could have been a modern day epic adventure along the same lines as Dances with Wolves. What we have instead is an excruciatingly long 133 minute rough-cut with little truth and little meat between the bones.

The DVD adds two featurettes about the film, one a traditional making-of flick, one a historical piece (DVD-ROM only) about the Spanish Mustangs.

Ride, Sally, ride.

Cast & Crew

Director :

Producer :


Hidalgo Rating

" Grim "

Rating: PG-13, 2004


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