ALL THE PRETTY HORSES
US 2000, 117 minutes,. Colour.
Matt Damon Henry Thomas, Penelope Cruz, Sam Shepard, Robert Patrick, Lucas Black, Ruben Blades, Miriam Colon.
Directed by Billy Bob Thornton.
It's strange what the word 'pretty' does to a film title. For a western (set in 1949) and the story of two cowboy buddies, it is a particularly feminine word. If the horses are not exactly pretty, they are pretty impressive and there are quite a lot of shots of them, especially in a collage of breaking in a herd. The novel was written by Cormac Mc Carthy - later film versions of his novels were striking, No Country for Old Men, The Road, Child of God.
Matt Damon and Henry Thomas (who gives a strong and nuanced performance) are friends who work with horses in west Texas. When his mother decides to sell her unprofitable ranch, Damon rides off to cross the Rio Grande with his friend, Thomas, and try to get work with the Mexican ranch-owners. They do. But it is complicated by their encounter with a young runaway, Briven (Lucas Black), who eventually causes them to be arrested and imprisoned. It is also complicated by Damon's falling in love with the owner's daughter, Penelope Cruz, and their seeing each other despite strict conventions and family injunctions.
It is not exactly a coming-of-age story, rather a coming-to-maturity in the world of hard experience, exploitation and cruelty. Matt Damon tends to be a bit square-jawed and expressionless compared with Henry Thomas and Lucas Black. The film is directed by Billy Bob Thornton as a leisurely male bonding saga punctuated by romance and by sudden violent confrontations.
One of the reasons for the film’s lack of success was the interference by producer, and in style, Harvey Eisenstein, who perform considerably, living quite a number of traumatic’s dramatic gaps and omissions which undermined the performances.
1. The impact of the film, Texas and Mexico in 1949, a western but a modern Western, the story of friendship, love, clashes, law, tragedy?
2. The original novel by Cormac Mc Carthy, his novels, film versions of his novels, Americana, grim?
3. The landscapes of Texas, the big ranches, the horses running, the countryside, the Rio Grande, Mexico, Mexican ranches? The work on the ranch, life in the town, the mansion, jail, the border? The musical score?
4. The director, his career, writing and directing, performance? The cast?
5. The title, the ironies?
6. The edited version, the comparisons with the full version? The gaps?
7. Matt Damon as John Grady Cole? Henry Thomas as Lacey Rawlins, life on the ranch, family, experience, work with horses? Lacey as his friend? Sharing their work? The death, the issue of the property and ownership, the father, the lawyer? John’s prospects, leaving?
8. Travelling, through the countryside, reaching the border, the Rio Grande? Its significance?
9. The encounter with Jimmy, his age, appearance, talk, nervousness, problems, fleeing? Travelling together, his behaviour, laces reactions, John’s consideration? Suspicions?
10. The ranch in Mexico, offering to be hands at work, the jobs, the effect on them, working with the horses, bunking with the other workers, interactions with the workers, language issues?
11. John Grady Cole and his capacity with the horses, taming? The boss seeing him, the interview, offering the job? Jimmy’s story and his not telling the truth – the later consequences?
12. Alejandra, in herself, her father’s daughter, encounters with John, the attraction, the meetings, the relationship? The aunt and her interview with John, her advice, drawing on her own experience? The reaction of her father, turning against John, vengeance?
13. Lacey as a character, in himself, his work, remarks, wariness about life, the bond with John? In Mexico, the difficulties, the clashes, prison? His leaving?
14. Jimmy, young, inexperienced, frightened, his return, the treatment, the police, the judgement on him, his being dragged away, his death?
15. John, the treatment by the boss, vengeance, imprisonment, life in the prison, the other prisoners, communicating? The police chief, antagonism, the
threats of death?
16. John getting out, riding to the border, confronting the police chief, the shooting?
17. Alejandra, the love for John, obedience to her father, advice from her aunt? The decision to go to the city?
18. John, his return – and future back in Texas?