Why does Hollywood always mess with success? The story of Frank
Hopkins, the famed horseman, endurance racer and subject of the
film “Hidalgo,” needs no modification or addition to
become an exciting film. Yet, the ever-wise executives at Buena
Vista added many fictitious events and characters to
“Hidalgo,” doing it much more harm than help.

Ryan Nowak
Yippee-ki-yay. (Courtesy of Buena Vista)

So many different plots are jumbled into this film that
it’s difficult actually to describe the story. In part,
it’s a recreation of Frank Hopkins’s (Viggo Mortensen)
race across the Arabian Desert upon his horse. This tale alone
would make for a very compelling film, but it seems pushed aside by
other plot elements. Short interludes of Hopkins wavering on his
horse in the desert heat are interspersed between longer, less
interesting scenes.

Most of the movie’s two hours and 15 minutes focuses on
the many subplots. Attempts by director Joe Johnston
(“Jurassic Park III”) to explore the character and
motivations of Hopkins are too heavy-handed and often boring. A
complicated (and silly) adventure with a sheikh’s daughter
further detracts from what should have been the main adventure
— the race across the desert.

This part of the story would have been mildly entertaining were
it not for the fact that it stereotypes Arabs and the Islamic
faith. For a film that claims to be based on a true story,
“Hidalgo’s” mischaracterization of Arabs is
downright offensive. It’s odd that this sort of material
appears in the film, given that its ample screen time is used in
part to show how Native Americans were miscast as villains at the
turn of the century.

Amidst all of this, there is a film about a man courageously
riding his horse to victory in a daunting race. These portions of
“Hidalgo” are shot beautifully and do manage to create
some drama. Adding to this is the character of Hopkins, who seems
to be custom built for a Disney drama.

Mortensen does a great job of portraying Hopkins. His subtle
cowboy mannerisms and slow drawl make him quite endearing.
Mortensen walks, talks, and acts like a cowboy hero, and, in doing
so, he nearly saves the film.

It’s too bad that Mortensen is surrounded by a cast of
over-actors and burdened with cliché dialogue. The most
engaging scenes of the film are often overshadowed by the mindless
ones. “Hidalgo” has all the makings of a classic
adventure story but, unfortunately, it too often falls short of the
lofty expectations of great historical epics.

Rating: One out of five stars.

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