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DVD Review: ‘Blackthorn’

★★★☆☆
If George Roy Hill’s 1969 film is to believed, infamous American outlaws Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid were both killed in a stand-off with the Bolivian military in 1908 following a lengthy pursuit. However, in new DVD and Blu-ray release Blackthorn (2011), Spanish director Mateo Gil hypothesises a scenario where Cassidy (played with grit and gumption by the fantastic Sam Shepard) survived the shoot-out, quietly living out his years under the name James Blackthorn in a secluded Bolivian village – until his outlaw past catches up with him.


Exhausted by his long self-imposed exile from the United States and hoping to see his reputed, estranged son before he finally meets his maker, Cassidy sets out on the long journey home with his remaining $6000 dollar haul. However, after an unexpected encounter with wanted Spaniard Eduardo (Eduardo Noriega) derails his plans, the ageing rogue is thrust into one last adventure, with the promise of danger, riches and adventure recalling his glory days with the Sundance Kid – shown here in flashback, with Game of Thrones star Nikolaj Coster-Waldau playing the younger Butch.

As with most westerns found slightly wanting in terms of narrative, it is the great wilderness expanses that serve as Blackthorn’s trump card. Despite an immense variety of different terrain – from the other-worldly salt flats to the mountainous altiplanos – Bolivia has rarely been exploited with such cinematic grandeur as it is by Gil. Alongside cinematographer Juan Ruiz Anchía, the landlocked South American vistas become the perfect stomping ground for one of America’s most legendary, if romanticised outlaws.

Sadly, the film’s revisionist screenplay plays second fiddle throughout, unable to lift itself above a well-worn game of cat-and-mouse between Eduardo, Cassidy and a posse of angry Potosí miners. Whilst Shepard more than carries the film as the world-weary ex-train robber, Noriega falls flat as Eduardo, a character with little hidden depth and even less to actually warm to. As a Sundance Kid stand-in, intentionally or otherwise, he fails to make the grade, leaving both Butch and the audience frantically searching for a viable exit strategy which only materialises at the film’s denouement.

Whilst visually arresting (thanks in part to Anchía, but perhaps more to the natural beauty of the locales) and despite being propped up by a charismatic Shepard in the title role, Blackthorn is far from the shot-in-the-arm the western genre has been crying out for for well-over a decade. Much like the nostalgic Cassidy, Gil’s film seems happy to rest on the laurels of past victories rather than striking out for pastures new.

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Daniel Green