Butch Cassidy back on the trail
By Michael O'Sullivan
Friday, Oct 14, 2011
"Blackthorn" feels less like a proper sequel to "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid," which it purports to be, than a coattail rider.
Set in 1927, 19 years after the shootout that seemingly closed the book on the earlier Western, "Blackthorn" does feature a character based on Butch (Sam Shepard), who somehow mysteriously survived the famous hail of bullets and who is living in Bolivia under the name James Blackthorn.
But apart from some flashbacks to Butch and Sundance's glory days (enacted with lackluster energy by Nikolaj Coster-Waldau and Padraic Delaney), and a subplot about the alcoholic lawman who has been looking for Butch all these years (Stephen Rae), there's no strong - or necessary - connection to the 1969 film.
Blackthorn might as well be the guy's real name, for all it matters to the story at hand.
As for that story, it's one whose drama fails to live up to the drama of the first movie, let alone to its own visuals. Though it's beautifully shot by Spanish director Mateo Gil, with scenes taking place in desolate salt flats and other austerely picturesque vistas, the movie's central dynamic - the relationship between James and a fugitive robber (Eduardo Noriega) - feels slack and uncompelling, especially compared with the crackling connection between Butch and Sundance that gave the first film its charge.
As "Blackthorn" gets going, its hero has decided to return to the States with the money he has put aside from raising horses. But on the way home from the bank, James's horse runs off with all his cash, after being startled by a gunshot. At fault is the aforementioned fugitive, a Spanish mine engineer named Eduardo, who claims to have stolen a pile of money from his employer, a ruthless mine owner, and who is now on the run from the man's henchmen. If James agrees to help him escape to where Eduardo has hidden the loot, Eduardo will give him a share.
It's a promising setup. Just when James decides to cash in his chips and retire in peace, he gets sucked back into his earlier life of crime - and a friendship with another charming rogue.
The problem is that we never really care very much about what happens to these two. Unlike Paul Newman's Butch and Robert Redford's Sundance, there's precious little chemistry between James and Eduardo. The question of the money - made only mildly more interesting by a narrative twist that introduces a minor moral kink in the story near the end - is just about the only thing that keeps the film on its feet.
James and Eduardo's relationship has a somnolent energy that makes the film feel sluggish, despite the occasional chase sequence and shootout.
In the title role, Shepard does his darnedest to reveal the character's complexity and depth. His weathered face helps to tell the back story, but most of the hard work is done by all the references to the earlier - and far better - film.
Contains violence, obscenity and the chewing of coca leaves. In English, Spanish, Aymara and Quechua with some English subtitles.