Dorian's Movie Reviews & Critiques

Is it worth seeing? Reviews are presented with no cynicism, no comparisons, no biased standards, no pretentiousness - every movie is reviewed on its individual entertainment value including technical presentation.

Note that a critique for writers follows the review.


 
6
Scale 1 - 10
Hidalgo
2004, Buena Vista
Directed by Joe Johnston
Screenplay by John Fusco.

MPAA Rating: - PG-13 -

Beautiful horses, expansive outdoor settings, exotic characters, and a true killer of an endurance test make this an engaging movie, which is based on a true story. Frank Hopkins (Viggo Mortensen) had been called the greatest rider that the West had ever known. He was a dispatch rider for the US Calvary, and had won hundreds of endurance races. His horse, Hidalgo, was a wild mixed breed mustang, not a purebred Arabian quarter horse.

Frank was in a downhill slump, drinking heavily, missing performances in the travelling show in which he had found work, and generally making a joke of himself. Frank had never come to grips with who he was. He was half Native American, and had witnessed the unfair and gruesome slaughter of his people, yet he rode dispatch for the US Calvary.

When Frank is invited to participate in a famous, but grueling, 3000 mile Ocean of Fire endurance race across the Arabian desert, it is his opportunity to validate who both he and his horse are. This turns out not to be just a trial of survival for Frank and Hidalgo, but a test of Frank's moral fiber and his resolve.

To win the race, Frank must resist being seduced out of it, bought out of it, ensnarled in unfamiliar local laws, trapped by an unmercifully lethal environment, deceived by other contestants, or killed... and find what is missing within himself... A worthy rite of passage, this quest is full of twists and dangers.

This "vision quest" follows a long and eventful road, but with somewhat weak development and predictable plotting. Many of the scenes could have been much stronger, making a more entertaining movie. But what it lacks in dramatic impact, is certainly made up for in cinematography, displaying scads of beautiful horses, Western scenery, Arabic scenery, and scenes from the desert.

Characters

Frank Hopkins (Viggo Mortensen), doesn't appear to be the stuff of heroes. He is lost to himself, unsure of who he is, never really standing for anything, and never willing to fight for anything. Yet he has a proven past in endurance racing, and the race is his big chance to prove himself. Will he cave in to pressure, or will they be the first Westerner, and non-pure bred horse, to win the famous race?

Sheikh Riyadh (Omar Sharif) adds at least his share of color to the story, as a sponsor of the race, whose only daughter, Jazira (Zuleikha Robinson), dares to identify with horse riding and an infidel, Frank Hopkins... as does Riyadh as a fan of the mythic Old West. Riyadh considers Frank an infidel, but comes to find much in common with him, including respect.

Lady Anne Davenport (Louise Lombard) is Frank's charmingly seductive nemesis in the race. She never races a horse, but she commands a host of men loyal to winning the race for her. She seems to be an easy match for Frank, in person, but her minions challenge him for all he is worth.

If you like westerns, races, interesting stories, exotic settings, and beautiful scenery, you are sure to like this movie. It carries an "PG-13" rating. Enjoy!

Hidalgo movie Web site.

Reactions:
Engaging: Moderately.
Boring: No.
Confusing: No, but the action could be more focused.
Characters: Good performances.
Entertaining: Yes.
Plot: Excellent balance between theme, plot, and character.
Uniqueness and originality: Excellent.
Surprises: Twists, but somewhat predictable.
Recommend this movie to others: Yes.
Emotional reaction to the movie (the following are from a work in progress):

  • Film Mood: striving, not passionate, mildly uplifting.
  • Film ethos (feelings left with): enlightened, uncompromising, story moral, growth, quest.
  • Film Energy: motivated, refreshing, determined, persistent.
  • Film Outlook: optimistic

Technical and critique

My comments below attempt to draw attention to technical things that make a movie good, especially if they made major contributions. For professional judgments on these various arts, the reader should consult professionals in these arts, and realize that these notes are not necessarily part of the overall rating for entertainment value.

  • Writing - Good characterization, that was not visually presented. Six spotlights.
  • Acting - Very good performances. Eight spotlights.
  • Casting - Well chosen. Ten spotlights.
  • Directing - The director should have noticed the weak drama and improved it. Five spotlights.
  • Lighting - Good visibility in night, tent, and indoor scenes. Ten spotlights.
  • Production design - Excellent use of the set to help tell the story through interaction and settings. Great setting choices. Ten spotlights.
  • Special effects - Sandstorm? Very realistic.
  • Editing - the action flowed smoothly, and put together a very coherent story. Possibly the writing and directing were inadequate to the drama.
  • Music - seamless, and complimented the action.
  • Costume design - Very nice. Ten spotlights.
  • Choreography of the set with the character actions; fight scenes - Excellent. Ten spotlights.
  • Cinematography - well executed and told the story as visually as possible, capturing great scenery as well as the action. Ten spotlights.

Story critique: what worked well, what didn't, and why?

This story is an example of a good story (rated a 6 out of 10) that with just a little extra work could easily have been an 8 ... and garnered several million more at the box office. The dramatic action was in the story, waiting to come out, but at every turn it just kind of smiled weakly and kept on going. Or maybe I just wasn't in the right mood.

The opening was over thirty minutes - I found myself looking at my watch since the story was still going nowhere. The time is not so important, but much of the movie is wasted in just setting up who Frank is. Characterization and motivation can be done in far fewer scenes, with the right development, and even present much more poignant insights into Frank's character and conflicts. Right up to his decision to enter the contest, I really didn't feel like I "felt" Frank's conflicts even thought I mentally "knew" what they were.

This is a good story, but it could have been stronger. The story slid so easily into and out of so many pieces of dramatic action that there was hardly any rising tension to it. Possibly the writer didn't develop the scenes to full dramatic advantage, or the director or film editor cut important parts out. It seems to me that the story simply lacked passion. My suspicion is that the scenes lacked dramatic focus.

An example of the lack of dramatic focus destroying dramatic intensity is seen in the use of a symbol that is a very dramatic symbol in Frank's life, but in use didn't translate off the screen. In one scene, a character discovers that Frank has left his bottle behind. My first thought was that he was going to get awfully thirsty in the desert, since that was the dramatic focus of this part of the story.

Later I realized the significance of the symbol. Drinking alcohol to excess was a major crutch for Frank - the bottle was ever-present. Frank apparently decided that he no longer needed it, or it simply ceased to be significant. But we don't know that since we never saw Frank make a conscious, and dramatic, decision to leave the bottle behind. If we had seen that, we would have known what a major turning point this was in Frank's life.

Another area in which there could have been tension was with a love interest. Possibly the creators felt constrained by the facts - that's understandable. You keep expecting there to be a love interest in the story, but despite numerous opportunities filled with expectation, Frank makes no connection with either Jazira or Lady Anne Davenport. It would have been nice to at least see him attracted and then resist temptation, or decide love in this far away land couldn't work out.

- Dorian (hey, it's actually me, Scott. Dorian is my first name.)


Scale:

  • 10 Spotlights: The best of movie making, well worth seeing (rarely given)
  • 8 Spotlights: Good movie for the genre; may have minor technical or story problems but they hardly harm the enjoyment; clearly worth seeing; (most movies)
  • 6 Spotlights: Not bad, but has deficiencies - worth seeing
  • 4 Spotlights: Caution - a "B" movie, probably will appeal only to some
  • 1 Spotlight: Caution - not recommended for any audience (will probably never be given)

My reviews are not based much on my personal taste, or any standard besides entertainment value. I try to be as objective as possible, keeping in mind that entertainment value is very subjective and individualized. If I'm not interested in a movie I usually don't go see it, so it doesn't get reviewed. Each character, and each position in the production company might be highlighted if the contribution affected the enjoyment of the story as either outstanding or dismal and I noticed it, keeping in mind that many contributions are singularly distinguished by their seamless integration with the story, not calling attention to themselves and thereby escaping attention.

- Dorian Scott Cole


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