March 11, 2004  
Volume 97, Issue 84  

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Hidalgo resists Hollywood

Starring: Viggo Mortensen, Omar Sharif, Zuleikha Robinson
Directed by: Joe Johnston

By Georgia Tanner
Gazette Writer

Gazette file photo
RIDE THAT HORSE, ARAGORN! Viggo Mortensen displays his equestrian leanings in Hidalgo.

Audiences venturing out to see Hidalgo may be expecting something shallow yet fun. Those assuming the story will be entertaining, the cinematography flawless, but the story typically big-budget Hollywood will find themselves pleasantly surprised.

The movie’s hero, played by Lord of the Rings’ Mortensen, portrays real-life distance horse rider Frank T. Hopkins. Hopkins was the first American to compete in an Arabian Desert race called the “Ocean of Fire.” Although the movie strays far from fact, one gains a sense that the character stayed somewhat true to Hopkins’s personality.
The portrayal of his alcoholism and darker side adds depth to Hopkins’s character and from the beginning the audience is shown he is both a heroic cowboy and a lost soul struggling with his roots.

Ancestry is an interesting theme in Hidalgo as we see the conflict between three distinct cultures, their misconceptions and traditions. The movie is noble in celebrating these differences; the use of different languages with English subtitles add a nice touch. The film shows the traditions of the Arabian culture without belittling it. This is achieved by humanizing the characters, whose beliefs the audience may balk at.

For example, the sheik calls his daughter a worthless girl, but still shows a great deal of love and respect for her. At the same time, she is shown as a strong and self-sufficient female protagonist. Director Johnston resists the urge to sexualize her, instead creating a relationship of mutual respect and understanding between her and Hopkins.

The movie is also critical of the American colonization of the West and the treatment of natives. Hidalgo is a movie about the adventure of a cowboy and his horse, but also about minorities, cultures and respect. It is less a story of an American becoming master of the foreign world, and more one of acceptance and even the celebration of other cultures.

These underlying themes and character variations make the adventure more interesting. Hopkins and his horse battle raiders, other racers and the elements in a race for much more than just glory.

Johnston creates a deadly, beautiful desert, and with sweeping pans of sand mountains and hazy, stylized techniques, you can feel the heat and hostility. The fight scenes, although somewhat choreographed and far-fetched at certain points, are nonetheless gripping.

The portrayal of the horses is charming, and Hidalgo comes to life with simple flicks of an ear or turns of the neck. They are all beautiful, in particular rival horse Al-Hattal, and the bravery and loyalty of the animals is not undermined. In this way, the horses are as much the stars as those riding them.

Hidalgo is an exciting cowboy film that resists the urge to sell out. By incorporating cultural themes and personal problems, the movie sets itself apart from others like it. The horse story and excitement make it entertaining, but the issues raised make it worthwhile.



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