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Viggo Mortensen as Frank T. Hopkins
Zuleikha Robinson as Jazira
Omar Sharif as Sheikh Riyadh
Louise Lombard as Lady Anne Davenport
Adam Alexi-Malle as Aziz
Saïd Taghmaoui as Prince Bin Al Reeh
Silas Carson as Katib
Harsh Nayyar as Yusef
J.K. Simmons as Buffalo Bill Cody
Adoni Maropis as Sakr
Victor Talmadge as Rau Rasmussen
Peter Mensah as Jaffa
Floyd ‘Red Crow’ Westerman as Chief Eagle Horn
Elizabeth Berridge as Annie Oakley
Malcolm McDowell as Major Davenport

Hidalgo is a fun film filled with action, adventure, comedy, and romance. Though slow at times, it is still worth checking out.

This film is supposedly based on a true story. (More on that later.)

In the 1890’s, Frank T. Hopkins is a washed up cowboy working in Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West show along with his horse Hidalgo. A former champion of long distance races, this half-Indian, half-Anglo man is now a drunk haunted by nightmares of his fellow Indians being killed off at Wounded Knee.

Frank’s life changes when an Arabian man makes him an offer. There’s a 3000-mile race through the Arabian Desert that a wealthy sheik wants Hopkins and his horse to race in. With nothing to lose, Hopkins agrees to race with Hidalgo. When he arrives in the desert, he finds a hostile reception. The locals find the inclusion of a foreigner in their race offensive and they look down upon the mixed blood mustang Hidalgo. Despite this, Hopkins races anyway.

Along the way Hopkins and Hidalgo must face dust storms, quicksand, raiders, and fellow hostile racers. But is running the race worth possibly getting himself and Hidalgo killed?

Hidalgo is rated PG-13 for adventure violence and some mild innuendo.

What Worked:
Being a huge fan of Joe Johnston, I was really eager to see Hidalgo. Johnston was one of the visual effects art directors for the original Star Wars trilogy and he was the director on fun films like The Rocketeer, Jumanji, October Sky, Honey I Shrunk The Kids, and Jurassic Park 3. Johnston seems to be in tune with what I like to see on the big screen and sure enough Hidalgo delivered.

Hidalgo is quite a bit of fun. The plot has action, adventure, drama, a little romance, and a fair amount of comedy. The movie features exotic locations and a wide variety of cultures including those of Native Americans, Arabians, the old West, and turn of the century high society. You even see a recreation of Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West show. All of these scenes contain beautiful costumes and amazing scenery that help to transport you back in time to this setting. The cinematography in the desert makes every frame seem like a beautiful photograph. Shots of hundreds of horses running free at the end of the film are really impressive as well and worth seeing on the big screen.

Viggo Mortensen makes the transition from fantasy king to cowboy with incredible ease. Never once while watching Hidalgo will you think you’re seeing Aragorn reincarnated. If anything, he’s more like Indiana Jones (scar included). Mortensen does a good southern accent and looks more than competent on a horse (because he is in real life). As you already know from Lord of the Rings, he handles the action well. He makes a great team along with the horse playing Hidalgo. The animal shows quite a bit of personality in the film and does a number of nice tricks.

The supporting cast is excellent as well. Omar Sharif is very good as Sheikh Riyadh. He’s a character who obviously loves his daughter, but must put on a sexist show for his subjects. It’s an interesting contradiction. Not only does Omar act sheik-ly, but he gets to do a fair amount of action as well. He even gets to decapitate someone. J.K. Simmons (from Spider-Man) is also excellent as Buffalo Bill Cody. He not only looks the part but also plays the character with a sense of humor and toughness you would expect. The rest of the cast is made of relative unknowns and they help round out the movie well.

The music in the film is composed by James Newton Howard and it gives the movie an appropriately epic feel. ILM also contributes a few subtle effects including a sandstorm, a locust swarm, and an interesting shot of a copper colored Statue Of Liberty in New York.

What Didn’t Work:
The main problem with Hidalgo is it’s pacing. When the movie is fast, it is really fast. However, when it’s slow, it’s really, really slow. The slow, quiet moments aren’t bad. They help develop the characters and add depth to the story. However, the slow moments stretch on for long periods of time to the point where the occasional action scenes seem like a great relief. The movie is also about 2 ½ hours long, but it feels even longer. The great race across the desert doesn’t even begin until an hour into the movie. I was very much into the film, but I did find myself periodically checking my watch.

Another minor gripe is that many of the subtitles flash by too quickly. A fair portion of the movie has subtitles and I repeatedly found myself unable to finish reading the lines of dialogue before they disappeared off of the screen. I don’t consider myself a slow reader, but they seemed to zip by way too fast.

I also have to address the controversy surrounding Hidalgo. It’s not nearly as much controversy as that surrounding The Passion of the Christ, but it’s enough to get some people excited. Disney is brazenly promoting this movie as being “based on a true story”. Well, the truth is it isn’t based on a true story. It turns out that Frank Hopkins told tall tales (or lied, depending on who you ask) about his past. Hopkins or other folks eventually spun his fictional tales into “fact” and Disney latched onto that with apparently very little research. Whether the stories are true or not, I find them entertaining either way. However, I don’t think Disney should be telling people it’s true when it isn’t. It is false advertising and warping history on their part and by all indications they don’t care.

The Bottom Line:
Hidalgo is an excellent movie with beautiful scenery and a wonderful cast. The movie is a bit long and slowly paced at times, but Viggo Mortensen and the horse keep things entertaining. Definitely check it out on the big screen.