Billy Bob Thornton made a splash in the mid ‘90s with his feature directorial debut Sling Blade, which garnered him an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay. The southern tale was one that was gracefully crafted into a narrative that worked on every dramatic level. Thornton would use that heat to work towards his next directorial effort, an adaptation of the award-winning Cormac McCarthy (“No Country For Old Men”) novel All The Pretty Horses. The production was set up at Miramax Films, who handled the distribution of his debut film, and recruited the rising star Matt Damon in the lead role. The film had a lot of creative heat behind it, but it received a critical lashing and fizzled at the box office when it debuted on Christmas Day in 2000. Now, twenty years later, we take a look and see if the film deserves all of the negative baggage associated with it and what went wrong if it does.
In 1949 Texas, a young cowboy named John Grady Cole (Matt Damon) loses the home he knows and loves when his grandfather dies and his mother puts the ranch up for sale. Essentially homeless and restless for something new, Cole recruits his best friend Lacey Rawlins (Henry Thomas, The Haunting of Hill House) to accompany him on a long trek south across the border to find work in Mexico. Along the way, they encounter a foul-mouthed 13-year-old runaway named Jimmy Blevins (Lucas Black, Sling Blade), who is running away from trouble and soon to get into more. Jimmy gets the guys roped into a hairy situation that haunts them even after they break off on their own to work on the lands for a wealthy Mexican aristocrat (Ruben Blades, Fear the Walking Dead). It is working these lands where Cole first lays eyes upon his boss’ daughter, Alejandra (Penélope Cruz), with whom he falls in forbidden love. Westerns and forbidden love go together like old friends, and Thornton does his best to capture the longing, weary spirit of the novel throughout this film.
All The Pretty Horses is a film that has a lot to appreciate throughout its runtime. One of the most notable aspects of the film is the insanely gorgeous cinematography on display. The visuals are doing 95% of the emotional plate setting within the story. A still-fresh Matt Damon puts in some admirable work as the steadily noble Cole, and Black steals the entire film with his delightfully outrageous performance as a kid who gets in over his head more often than not. Any scene with Jimmy feels energized in a way that the rest of the movie seems to lack. Oddly enough, he is the emotional core of the film. That is a bit of an issue when one of the main conflicts is a fiery forbidden romance that, in actuality, lacks sparks between our two leads. Cruz gives a fine performance, but the film eliminates any buildup or believability to the romance to even get the audience invested. You are told that the two love each other instead of shown. Very little that transpires within the story feels earned and moves along at a clip that does not line up with the contemplative nature of the narrative.
The reason that the movie as presented does not completely satisfy is because we are only getting part of the original vision. Thornton delivered a version of the film that was over three hours to Miramax, but Harvey “Scissorhands” Weinstein demanded that the film be cut down to less than two hours and have the score from Daniel Lanois replaced by Marty Stuart. Pretty much everyone involved in the picture bemoans this decision, and you can feel the huge missed opportunity as a member of the audience. When viewed with this information, you can easily see how developments were rushed and plot points were removed in a way that feels deeply unsatisfying. This is a real shame, though, as you can see the epic movie that this could have been in its bones. The talent and production value is on the screen, and you just know that the film would have been exponentially better with more time to ruminate and build. As is, All The Pretty Horses is a decent film with great performances and production values that unfortunately feels disjointed. The story has potential, and I will gladly go on this journey again if some bold soul ever releases the longer cut.
All The Pretty Horses gets a pleasing upgrade on Blu-Ray courtesy of Mill Creek Entertainment with a 1080p master in the original aspect ratio. The transfer does not seem to be a new, polished-up master, but the basic high definition transfer provides natural film grain with only the occasional specks of damage or subtle digital anomalies. This disc wonderfully represents the picturesque settings of the vast western expanse that wow throughout the film. There are some nice, vibrant colors that make the film pop visually in an exciting way. Skin tones look natural, and the presentation offers up some fairly deep black levels. The disc shows off some excellent details in most instances, but there are moments of softness present in some shots. Mill Creek Entertainment has provided an enjoyable transfer for a film that has been missing in action on Blu-Ray.
This new Blu-Ray comes with a lossless DTS-HD 2.0 Master Audio mix that beautifully reproduces the film sonically. The dialogue holds up quite nicely, coming though clearly without being stepped on by the score or sound effects. The environmental effects are delineated nicely from the rolling thunder that plagues young Jimmy to the deafening silence of the wind on the plains. The movie is accompanied by a lively score from Marty Stuart that sounds great here. This is a track that represents the film in a very satisfying way. Optional English subtitles are provided on this disc.
There are no special features included on this disc.
All The Pretty Horses is a film with enjoyable scenes that does not quite add up to a completely satisfying film. The interactions between Cole, Lacey and Jimmy typically work really well while the relationship with Alejandra feels rushed and unbelievable. Billy Bob Thornton displays a real eye for composition that makes you wish he would have developed his skills even further than he has. Mill Creek Entertainment has brought the film to Blu-Ray with a pleasing A/V presentation after many years of waiting for an upgrade. Fans of the film should be pleased to finally be able to purchase this one in HD at a very reasonable price.
All The Pretty Horses is currently available to purchase on Blu-Ray.
Note: Images presented in this review are not reflective of the image quality of the Blu-Ray.
Disclaimer: Mill Creek Entertainment has supplied a copy of this disc free of charge for review purposes. All opinions in this review are the honest reactions of the author.
Dillon is most comfortable sitting around in a theatre all day watching both big budget and independent movies.