|All the Pretty Horses
Cormac McCarthy's 1992 novel All the Pretty Horses was one of that year's most
acclaimed works of fiction and vaulted the author into the public consciousness. The
screen rights were snapped up almost immediately with Mike Nichols set to direct. Over
the years, the project bounced from studio to studio with various names attached
(including Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio) before it finally landed as a joint production
between Columbia and Miramax with Ted Talley (who won an Oscar for adapting
The Silence of the Lambs) scripting, Billy Bob Thornton (who picked up his Academy
Award for the screenplay of Sling Blade) directing, and Matt Damon (who got his
statue for co-authoring Good Will Hunting) starring. Because the film was shot in
early 1999 but was held for release until Christmas 2000, the rumor mill went into
overdrive, with claims that Thornton's original version was too long (240 minutes) and
he had to spend time fine tuning the film in between his other projects.
Whatever the truth (and only those close to the project know, and they aren't talking),
All the Pretty Horses eventually hit the cineplexes. As is often the case with any film
adapted from a popular or much-loved book, its fans will be disappointed. One simply
cannot capture the complete feel of a novel that runs more than three hundred pages
and unfolds over time. Talley has attempted to distill the essence of the story, and he
does yeoman work by giving shape to the central arc -- the maturation of one
John Grady Cole (portrayed by Damon). There are, however, several salient points
missing and some of the supporting characters feel half-formed. This may partly be
a function of time. This version of the material is alternately languid and rushed.
Certain storylines unfold in a slow, deliberate manner while others (notably the
romance between Cole and Alejandra -- played by a lackluster Penélope Cruz) feel
For his part, director Thornton keeps things moving. There are sequences where
clearly he has attempted to find the cinematic equivalent of McCarthy's spare, elegant
prose (i.e., the opening sequence of horses running, Cole and his cohort Lacey
Rawlins breaking wild mustangs). But as has been pointed out by other critics, the
stylistic flourishes are inconsistent. The cinematography by Barry Markowitz captures
the natural beauty of the locations but fails to find visual cues that would approximate
the language of the original.
The performances are generally fine, with Damon once again proving to be an
actor of range. Through his skills, the character of John Grady Cole literally matures in
front of the audience. Henry Thomas does a nice turn as Cole's compatriot and traveling
companion Lacey Rawlins while Lucas Black impresses as a teenage outlaw. Penélope
Cruz lends her beauty to the role of Alejandra, the willful daughter of a Mexican rancher
who defies her family by falling in love with Cole. Miriam Colon as her aunt purloins
the few scenes in which she appears. There are cameos by Sam Shepard (as a lawyer),
Robert Patrick (as Damon's father), and Bruce Dern (cast against type as a kindly jurist).
Other supporting characters are handled well, although few make more than a passing
All the Pretty Horses probably would have worked best as a television miniseries
along the lines of "Lonesome Dove." Still, what is on screen is impressive, even with
the sense of something missing. Like another modern Western, The Hi-Lo Country,
this film may get lost in the holiday glut only to be "discovered" on video or cable. As
produced, though, this adaptation of All the Pretty Horses, even with its flaws, cries
out to be seen on the big screen.
Running time: 116 mins.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for violence and some sexuality
|© 2008 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.