Back in the Saddle Again

‘Blackthorn’ takes a beloved American outlaw on one last ride — through Bolivia


Mateo Gil, director of “Blackthorn,” worked with a multilingual cast by switching back and forth between English and Spanish.

Butch Cassidy is alive and living in Bolivia. At least that’s the conceit behind “Blackthorn,” a film now in theaters starring Sam Shepard as everyone’s favorite outlaw (who was played by Paul Newman in 1969’s “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid”). Here, Cassidy — who’s been raising and selling horses and seems to have lived life on the straight and narrow — teams up for one last job with Eduardo, a Spaniard who came to Bolivia to work as an engineer, in an effort to get enough money to return home. So Butch again turns to a life of crime — acceptable crime, notes director Mateo Gil.

“Everyone in the audience feels very close to Butch,” he says. “Everybody thinks he’s doing the right thing [because] of the thin line that Butch sees very clearly: the line between robbing banks and robbing people that go to the bank.” Gil was also always attracted to Cassidy’s distaste for bloodshed. “He used to plan his holdups so well in order to avoid …violence,” Gil says.

Much of “Blackthorn” owes a debt to the traditional American Western, particularly to the role the physical world plays in the film. (Think of the dusty towns or rocky canyons that dominate most Westerns.) For that, the landscape of Bolivia served nicely. “Blackthorn” moves from rainforest to high plateau to snowy mountains to a climactic confrontation on a salt flat.

“The sad thing is we didn’t use all the landscape we could have used because it was so far [to travel]. There are thousands of different landscapes” in Bolivia, Gil says. And, as in many Westerns, those broad vistas serve a specific purpose in the film. “I thought that maybe audiences were so accustomed to seeing landscapes in cinema that we are not watching them with enough attention. So I thought that trying a little bit of a different landscape in a genre that has a very concrete landscape could be a good idea, because people might see the landscape again as an expressive element in the movie.”

“We like Westerns very much,” says Gil of the team that made the film. “We weren’t trying to do a new kind of vision or something. It’s kind of an homage to the genre because we love it; it’s nothing more than that.”

E Street Cinema, 555 11th St. NW; $8-$12; 202-452-7672. (Metro Center)
Kristen Page-Kirby covers film for The Washington Post Express.
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Katie Aberbach · October 19, 2011