January 8, 2001 -- "All the Pretty Horses" is an old-fashioned western that reminds me of "Lonesome Dove." It is a story big in scale, yet character-driven. It evokes the spirit of the Old West, yet it takes place in a foreign country, where the rules are different and cowboys aren't kings.
The movie stars Matt Damon of "The Talented Mr. Ripley" as John Grady Cole, a young cowboy who loses his inheritance in Texas so he goes south of the border for adventure in a time after the passing of the Old West. In Mexico, however, some of the flavor of the Old West lives on. Cole's best friend, Lacey Rawlins (Henry Thomas of "Legends of the Fall") rides along just for the heck of it. The two hook up with another rider, Jimmy Blevins (Lucas Black of "Crazy in Alabama"), who is on the run from somebody.
Cole and Rawlins go to work on a huge cattle ranch, where their knowledge of horses comes in handy. Cole falls in love with the ranch owner's daughter, Alejandra (Penélope Cruz of "Woman on Top"). Cole does not have the approval of Alejandra's aristocratic family and soon he is in big trouble. Throughout the story, Cole remains true to his own sense of right and wrong. He seeks justice on his own terms. He refuses to compromise, even though everyone around him seems to do nothing but compromise. John Wayne would have been proud. I'm not sure, but it kinda looked like one of the horses got a kiss at the end of the film, in the tradition of the western movies of the 1940s and 50s.
The story has action, drama, romance, tragedy and humor. It is about chance and it is about making choices, and learning to take responsibility for those choices. It is a story about growing up. Damon is perfect as the main character. He shows toughness, determination, but also vulnerability. Henry Thomas also does good work as a sidekick who doesn't want to take as many chances as Cole does. Black is very convincing as a tough young kid. Bruce Dern of "Diggstown," who is in too few movies these days, has a choice small role as a judge with a rare dose of common sense. Dern shines in his brief moment on the screen.
The cinematography by Barry Markowitz is excellent, particularly in capturing the scenic beauty of the location shots. The original music by Daniel Lanois and Marty Stuart works perfectly. Director Billy Bob Thornton ("Sling Blade") keeps the story going with a very sure hand. He never forces anything. He just lets the story work. Few directors show that kind of confidence in their material or their actors. This is a marvelous western, based on the book by Cormac McCarthy. Here's hoping Billy Bob will film the next two books in that series. This film rates an A.
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