By Brian Lafferty
October 14, 2011 (San Diego) – Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid ended on a famous freeze frame shot. It was right up there with the famous shot of Antoine Doinel looking at the camera to cap Francois Truffaut’s The 400 Blows. The Bolivian army surrounded Butch and Sundance. They emerged from hiding, guns blazing. The movie ended on a freeze frame of the two with the sound of gunfire blasting away.
According to Blackthorn, that wasn’t the end of the story. Director Mateo Gil’s film (Gil wrote the script for last year’s Agora) shows Butch (Sam Shepard) still living in Bolivia under the name James Blackthorn. Sundance has long since perished. Blackthorn, now an old man, wishes to return home to the States before he dies. On the trek home, he reluctantly takes on a young sidekick (Eduardo Noriega), a robber on the run. The two develop a tenuous relationship on what will prove to be the last adventure for the one-time legend.
Blackthorn is an adventure film with a heavy dose of reflection and nostalgia. Even though Blackthorn returns to his old ways, he cannot recapture the same glory that he had in his glory days. Maybe it’s because he’s too old. Perhaps his new partner just isn’t Sundance. Whatever the reason, as George Webber said in the famous Thomas Wolfe novel, you can’t go home again.
Sam Shepard’s crusty and bitter performance communicates without telegraphing his heartaches, his homesickness, and his desire to live the rest of his life in peace. Through his weary expression, it’s clear that he’s through with the years of having to live a life of lies day after day.
Cinematographer Juan Ruiz Anchía doesn’t use a lot of color. He bakes many of the daylight scenes in scorching sunlight. He makes no attempt to beautify the vast Bolivian terrain. The arid salt flats can make one thirsty. Anchía enlarges the minimalism of the dull and rugged brown, yellow, and orange plains with extreme wide shots and deep focus, creating a vast emptiness.
Lucio Godoy composed the score, which sounds like one composed by Michael Giacchino (Up, TV’s Lost). Its melancholy guitar strings inspire feelings of sadness and solemnity. The somber score also evokes feelings of nostalgia. It’s the kind of music one can imagine hearing when they look back on their childhood or younger years, especially when they view those years as idyllic.
Blackthorn feels long at times, despite its ninety-eight minute runtime. Although it isn’t exactly a feel-good film, it’s not one of those movies that make you feel sad for the rest of the day. It’s melancholy but in a positive way that makes you think about your past, present, and future. Blackthorn, however speculative, is an emotional and appropriate coda to the legend of Butch Cassidy.
Blackthorn is currently playing at the Landmark La Jolla Village Cinemas.
A Magnolia Pictures release. Director: Mateo Gil. Screenplay: Miguel Barros. Cinematography: Juan Ruiz Anchía. Original Music: Lucio Godoy. Cast: Sam Shepard, Eduardo Noriega, Stephen Rea, Magaly Solier, Dominique McElligott, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, and Padraic Delaney. 98 minutes. Rated R.