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Review byMatthew Turner14/04/2004

Two out of Five stars
Running time: 135 mins

Old-fashioned, Boys’ Own-style adventure movie with mostly impressive special effects, unfortunately let down by the spectacle of Viggo Mortensen being out-acted by his own horse.

The posters for Hidalgo provide a telling story – if they seem at all familiar it’s because they’ve been designed to resemble the posters for The Lord Of The Rings trilogy, presumably in order to cash in on Viggo “Aragorn” Mortensen’s legion of new-found fans. Unfortunately, though the film definitely has its moments, Mortensen frequently seems miscast and almost scuppers the film as a result.

Fictionalised Account Of Real Man

The story is a fictionalized version of the life of real-life cowboy (and alleged fabulist) Frank T. Hopkins (Mortensen). Having formed a close attachment to his horse Hidalgo after winning several unofficial cross-country races together, Hopkins witnesses the atrocities at the Battle of Wounded Knee and subsequently winds up drunk and depressed in Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West Show.

There he is challenged to enter the legendary “Ocean of Fire” – a horse race across the Arabian Desert with a prize of $10,000. And, since he has nothing better to do, Hopkins accepts.

Hopkins quickly discovers that the race is a matter of great national pride. His rivals include the powerful, yet kind-hearted Sheik Riyadh (Omar Sharif) and the beautiful, but unscrupulous Lady Anne Davenport (Louise Lombard), who has a lucrative horse-mating contract at stake. He also endures several barbs at the expense of Hidalgo’s ‘half-breed’ status, and since Hopkins is apparently half-Indian, he takes that sort of thing rather personally.

Original Story Not Interesting Enough

The problem with the film is that it feels like the initial story wasn’t interesting enough on its own, so the film-makers threw in the best bits from The Mummy, plus a dash of Indiana Jones-style swashbuckling for good measure.

In the middle of the race, then, we get: a sandstorm (which Hidalgo, naturally, manages to out-run); a swarm of locusts (which Hopkins…er…eats); and the daring rescue of Sheik Sharif’s daughter Jazira (Zuleikha Robinson) from the dastardly clutches of the chief bad guy. It also has an annoying bit with Dodgy CGI Leopards, but we’ll gloss over those, only pausing to remark that they’re better than the Dodgy CGI Tiger in Gladiator.

There are other problems, too. For one thing, everyone in the race slows to a walking pace as soon as they are out of sight of the spectators. Whether ‘historically’ accurate or not, this has the unfortunate effect of knocking the wind out of the sails of the film at an extremely early point.

Mortensen is also a problem, despite looking comfortable on horseback. At times, he’s so taciturn as to be almost comatose. No less than two beautiful women make a play for him during the movie and he seems more interested in his horse than in them. At one point, Sheik Sharif catches his daughter in Hopkins’ tent and Hopkins doesn’t even seem overly concerned at the imminent loss of his testicles.

That said, the photography is gorgeous, some of the set-pieces are fun and there are hugely enjoyable supporting performances by Sharif, J.K. Simmons as Buffalo Bill and Adoni Maropis as the Comedy Goat Herder.

In short, Hidalgo has several enjoyable patches and is definitely watchable, if a little slow. However, you can’t help wondering how much better it would have been with someone more charismatic in the lead – after all, if you’re going to blatantly fictionalise someone’s life, you might as well make them dashing, funny and interesting while you’re at it.

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Content updated: 20/01/2020 10:16

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