Ever since I was a child those three words always stuck with me, always reminded me of horses and a particular equestrian yarn where the words made the horse, Hidalgo, run fast like the wind. Horses are seldom protagonists that struggle to excite audiences because who wants to see a drama about a horse, it‚??s a horse for goodness sake! Films like The Horse Whisperer or War Horse try to emphasise the complex psychological centre of these animals, but we can‚??t identify with these animals‚?? mentality, only their abilities to gallop and jump. And 2004‚??s Hidalgo doesn‚??t attempt to demonstrate the psychological connection between horse and rider; it takes the horse and puts the rider onto it for the most part of the film, and creates a swashbuckling adventure of a race that emphasises how horses should be depicted. Hidalgo is meant to be based on true story of Frank Hopkins, an American horse rider who won the gruelling Middle Eastern ‚??Ocean of Fire‚?? race in 1891 against Bedouins riding pure-blooded Arabian horses. This fabled event is now regarded as never having occurred in history due to the inaccuracy of Hopkins‚?? claims and the impossibility of the race. But seeing as it was over 120 years ago in Arabia, I highly doubt everything kept recorded must be factual and that this event, and the mighty legs of the mustang Hidalgo, occurred and lived on in reality.
As we pick up American Frank Hopkins and his mustang, Hidalgo, in the 1891 Wild West, a wealthy Arabian Sheikh sends his envoy to ask him to either stop using the phrase ‚??the world‚??s greatest distance horse and rider‚?? or allow Hopkins and Hidalgo to prove themselves by entering the ‚??Ocean of Fire‚?? race: an annual 3,000 mile survival race across the Middle Eastern desert. As the Sheikh breeds the supposed greatest type of horse in the world and a wealthy British horse breeder bets her horse on the race too, Hopkins must fend off tough competition, whilst also battle the gruelling desert conditions and contempt from other riders. With checkpoints featured during such a tiring race, these interludes pave the way for the interweaving of smaller missions that Hopkins must face considering he always finds himself in the middle of everything‚?¶ with Hidalgo there to whisk him away when he needs him most.
Hidalgo begins in the American Wild West, and not being a fairly keen Western supporter, I was inclined to never give the film its rightful chance, but the opportunity I gave it was enough, for it moves landscape completely to the Arabian desert, and much to my happiness it paid off! Heritage are very much part of the setting, and have something to do with the change in atmosphere. From the cowboy boots and southern accents to Arabian dresses and lavish ornaments, the backdrop swap couldn‚??t be more refreshing because not only does it open up a whole new avenue for the storyline to go down, but also inclines the audience to continue watching essentially a new film. The film is so bogged down in heritage it kind of overpowers it to an extent where the culture interferes with our interaction of the almighty race.
It goes without saying that Hidalgo is a swashbuckling adventure that utilises its setting as a means to expand its story. From the mighty sandstorms to golden mirages, Hidalgo has plenty of action to get involved in. There is also a sense of camaraderie and passion between the characters for the horses and the race that Hidalgo becomes an engrossing piece of entertainment, and nothing less. Although we can feel its unoriginality as an adventure story, it never gets boring and all you do is root for Frank and Hidalgo until they cross that finish line. The only problem is that this swashbuckling action and adventure story is divided between moments of solemn conversation and thought. One moment Hopkins is riding against a sandstorm, the next he is handcuffed for sleeping with the Sheik‚??s daughter, and then he must outrun bandits, to afterward reminiscing of his past, singing a depressing song in the process. This divide needed to bridged if Hidalgo wants to be looked at more than just a daring adventure story.
Viggo Mortensen stars as Frank Hopkins, a great American horse rider. Hidalgo came just one year after the release of the final Lord of the Rings film showing not only how Mortensen is moving on with his career, but also the attempt to distinguish his career from being simply known as Aragorn. Without Mortensen, Hidalgo, the film and the horse, would crumble because his talent allows the film to retain a sense of dramatic license. Omar Sharif‚??s Sheikh Riyadh eases into the film and into our good books thanks to his open attitude. Sharif‚??s divided personality of loving American things yet having to remain stern in the face of Hopkins makes him a likeable down-to-Earth character. Zuleikha Robinson stars Jazira, the tenacious daughter of the Sheikh. She mysteriously promotes herself into the main cast, which is welcomed because there is a shortage of female characters. Quite hilariously, there is an appearance by J.K. Simmons as Buffalo Bill Cody, who has such hair like a mop, and a patriotic outfit to boot, that it takes quite a while to recognise him, and by that time he will have vanished from the screen, never again to be seen.
Hidalgo may be a godsend for equestrian flicks due to their scarcity at being made, but it at times suffers from detrimental sluggishness. Hidalgo suffers from a poor beginning where there is so much going on nothing is really taken in, causing the Arabian landscape to come as quite of a shock, but definitely an improvement to what the Wild West was offering. Still, once in the desert, there are so many riders, rich people and slaves that confusion will still be up there. Only a miniscule of characters are delved into deeply, a handful more are given a bit of time, some are mentioned, but possibly 90 per cent of the cast are extras. Only Frank is really interesting, Hidalgo‚??s an enigma, the wealthy Sheikh is quite expansive, but the female characters are dull, and the other riders are hardly explored unfortunately. But, at 136 minutes, Hidalgo is still a hefty adventure and you may be wondering where did the time go? I actually don‚??t know. Hidalgo simply breezes past as the long race is interweaved with smaller missions, sieges and character development scenes, and when Hidalgo and Frank cross the finish line, the film as an experience feels worth it.
Both sluggish and adventurous in its story, Hidalgo‚??s swashbuckling nature brands it as one of the better films in the equestrian canon.
It is with that in mind that I watch Hidalgo, a movie about the most grueling horse race imaginable. I mean, how much of this race depends on the skill of the rider and not the strength of the horse itself? The very nature of this race means the deaths of a lot of horses, and like other animals in film, the death of a horse is worse than the death of a human being, because the horse is an innocent.
Hidalgo is a superhorse of a character. He manages to withstand injuries that would mean the immediate destruction of other horses, and still manages to defeat a leopard! A leopard! By the way, the subplot that involves those leopards may have been a distraction from the main race, but it wasn't a bad one.
The writing for the human characters isn't very deep, and the acting isn't as well. But this was one of the last films that Omar Sharif starred in. I'm glad to have seen this movie as tribute to my namesake.