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Starring Viggo Mortensen
Screenplay by John Fusco
Based on the life of Frank T. Hopkins
Directed by Joe Johnstone

IN SHORT: A great race. Long in distance and a wee bit long in time. [Rated PG-13 for adventure violence and some mild innuendo. 136 minutes]

A man and his horse. It's been a very long time since we've had a film that exploited the unspoken link between man and that fine animal. Roy Rogers is long gone and the current generation expects a grittier cowboy. It gets it with Frank Porter (Viggo Mortensen), a real life cowboy who never made a big deal about his travels or his life. Pieced together and expanded by screenwriter John Fusco, Hidalgo is a fine family flick, filled with adventure and danger and intrigue and good ol' cowboy morality. You don't get a lot of scenery, a la the panoramas found in John Huston's flicks, but you do get danger in unexpected laces. Hidalgo is as good as any of the novels aimed at youngsters (think Hardy Boys only with a horse, a little less detecting and a lot more adventure) which means it will also work well for those of us old enough to be raising kids old enough to be reading Hardy Boys adventures.

oh, are we dating our self...

The Wild West of 1890 is where this story begins. Not the wild west of shootouts on Main Street, but a place where horsemen stage races across the wild territory and the townspeople wager till the day is done. Renowned for his performances in these races is Frank Porter and his horse Hidalgo, who move on to careers as a dispatch rider for the Army and with the traveling shows of Buffalo Bill Cody (J. K. Simmons). Thanks to the nudging of the also legendary Annie Oakley (Elizabeth Berridge), Hopkins enters the Ocean of Fire, a 3000 mile trek across Arabian deserts that kills close to a third of its entrants. It isn't Buffalo Bill's idea -- if you've ever read any of the stories which greatly inflated his real life experiences to superhero status you'd think Bill would be in the race -- it is English and Arabian royalty, Lady Anne Davenport (Louise Lombard) and later Prince Bin Al Reeh (Said Taghmaoui) that push the stoic cowboy into giving his word and running the race.

Hopkins also has to learn, quickly, the rules of Arabian culture. His path will cross that of Jazirah (Zuleikha Robinson), the last living child and, to his shame, the daughter of Sheikh Riyadh (Omar Sharif), who oversees the race. The sheikh has educated his daughter and trained her to ride, all against tribal law. His five sons are dead and so his daughter is the prize in the race, expected by all to be won by the Prince and the well documented and perfect bloodline of his steed, Al-Haazel. All the Prince has to do is defeat the Infidel, Hopkins, who is already known to the Sheikh -- he loves reading those stories about Buffalo Bill and the men and women that ride with him.

Sure, we could write about locusts and death traps and killer cheetahs and the actions of the infamous 7th Cavalry and make Hidalgo sound like a cheap novel. Under director Joe Johnston's hand it is quite a bit more. It is the next in a long line of superior movies, including October Sky and the surprising Jurassic Park III and Honey I Shrink the Kids, that you can take the family to. A lot of this film rides on Mortensen's shoulders but the film also marks the final work of Omar Sharif, who brings more presence and emotion to the screen even in scenes in which he doesn't move or speak than the rest of the supporting cast combined. The supporting cast, by the way, also has well developed background stories operating in this screenplay. Only a slow pace to the film gets anywhere close to being in the way.

On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Ten Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Hidalgo, he would have paid . . .


A Family Friendly film that doesn't pander to kids and works just as well as a movie geared to the adult eyes. A shade long in the running time category, though that may be a bad back talking more than a criticism that should keep you away. Hidalgo is recommended.

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The Cranky Critic website is Copyright © 1995  -  2017  by Chuck Schwartz. Articles by Paul Fischer are Copyright © 1999 - 2006 Paul Fischer. All images, unless otherwise noted, are property of,©, ®, their respective studios and are used by permission. All Rights Reserved. Not to be used or copied for any commercial purpose. Academy Award(s) and Oscar®(s) are registered trademarks and service marks of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.