"Blackthorn": Think Butch Cassidy at AARP Age

By Matt Prigge
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted Oct. 12, 2011

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Grade: B-

In the neo-western Blackthorn, a grizzled horse-breeder named James Blackthorn (Sam Sheppard) reluctantly agrees to tag along with a thief (Eduardo Noriega) for that fabled one last score. There’s a twist, and one that you’ll see coming over the horizon, but the hairpin turn comes early: Blackthorn is really Butch Cassidy at AARP age. Turns out he wasn’t spectacularly gunned down alongside the Sundance Kid, but instead lived on in hiding.

A high concept is more than this modest oater—which would traditionally wind up on a double bill with a John Wayne titan—can handle, but it’s not enough to make it collapse. The idea is to craft an over-the-hill western along the lines of Man of the West or Ride the High Country—films that ponder on aging and regrets in between shoot-outs. The filmmakers are lucky to have Sheppard, whose acting, as ever, is as laidback and laconic as the plays he writes are grim and determined. His Butch Cassidy has spent the back half of his life relaxing in the shadows, planning an American return that never need happen and watching everyone he once knew die. In that sense, he’s already dead, and his heaven is lording over cows and banging his Indian housekeeper (Magaly Solier).

The intrigue into which he becomes embroiled is intended to give him a taste of the good old days and a break from the loneliness of aging. He only gets an unassuming B-western, and not one of the sneaky great ones, but it’s better than nothing. Writer Miguel Barros mostly falls on mildly disorienting substitutions—the Bolivia desert instead of the American, gunfighters with an XX chromosome—to give his slender tale the illusion of freshness. He’s less successful with the peppered flashbacks to the young Butch and Sundance, intended to summon the goofy spirit of George Roy Hill’s Newman-Redford fave but which instead play stiff, saccharine and drenched in what could only be called sensitive old man guitar music. Sheppard—and Butch Cassidy—deserve more, but this will do.

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