Blackthorn opens in New York and L.A. tomorrow. The below is adapted from my review in the Villager during Tribeca Film Festival in April.
Blackthorn may well be the most Southerly western in all of the genre’s history. Set not in Texas, not in Mexico, but in the mountainous jungles of Bolivia, it purports to tell the story of Butch Cassidy’s nonage — some two decades after his presumed demise at the hands of local authorities (an incident known to audiences so well from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid).
Finely crafted by the Spanish team of Mateo Gil (director) and Miguel Barros (screenwriter), it’s now 1927 — and the pot-bellied, wind-beaten and white-bearded Butch (Sam Shepard) is getting lonesome for home and maybe a little tired of anonymity and inactivity. He puts together a little grub stake and starts his journey north before — wouldn’t you know it? — he bumps into a young fugitive (Eduardo Noriega) who claims to have embezzled from a rich mining executive. The two ride together, slowly becoming partners in crime, and inevitably friends. But with the Bolivian army in pursuit, along with a Pinkerton man who has been following Butch for decades (Stephen Rea), the odds are stacked against them.
As impossible as it may seem, the film mostly steers clear of clichés. Flashbacks to the young Butch and Sundance and their mutual love interest Etta are self-conscious and a little cringe-inducing in their nostalgia-baiting. But the meat of the story, which moves as slow and stately as its mature star, still packs plenty of original twists, action and surprises. Fans of Shepard (like this reviewer) will glean right off the bat why he took the part. The actor/playwright, so long identified with The West, fits his iconic character as though he’d worn it all his life. It’s a career-defining statement. He even sings several folk songs on the soundtrack. Seeming like he’s having the time of his life, Shepard turns in some of the best acting of his career.