In All The Pretty Horses after his mother sells their home in late ’40s Texas, John Grady Cole (Matt Damon) heads for Mexico and a life of adventure alongside his friend Lacey Rawlins (Henry Thomas). After an encounter with drifter Blevins (Lucas Black), they find work on a Mexican ranch, where Cole begins an affair with the owner’s daughter Alejandra (Penélope Cruz). When the owner leaves, the immigrants are arrested and thrown into prison, where they are reunited with Blevins.
A brief and brutal incarceration follows, before the men are forced to watch a murder. Finding themselves in a different prison, Rawlins has to fight to stay alive, while Cole becomes an unwilling killer. By the time salvation arrives, each of them has to question what life holds next, and whether they can endure the pressures of freedom…
Ambitious in reach and epic in scope, Thornton’s second film as director demands respect and grabs attention. Its serious structure – unfolding in four chapters – is faithful to McCarthy’s novel, carrying much of the tone and original dialogue alongside. The big themes (following dreams, living with propriety and being a slave to fate) earned him the label of the Shakespeare of the western, and the director’s high-minded approach does little to dilute this.
Damon is perhaps not up to such a challenging role but he is rescued by Thomas and Black, who bring an unquestionable authority to their vulnerable personas, while Barry Markowitz’s rich photography adds further depth, using the Texan vistas almost as another character to underwrite the script. The film suffered the indignity of two years on the shelf as the original four-hour cut was cut in half and a release window during the awards season scheduled. Such timidity did little to inspire the critics, and Thornton, who has delivered a meaty and memorable genre tale, deserved better.
USA / 2000
Director: Billy Bob Thornton
Writer: Ted Tally, from the novel by Cormac McCarthy
Cast: Matt Damon, Penélope Cruz, Henry Thomas, Lucas Black, Rubén Blades