Starring: Matt Damon, Henry Thomas, Lucas Black, Penélope Cruz
Director: Billy Bob Thornton
Mood: If you’re looking for a movie that’s all about awesome horses and Matt Damon at his Western best – just kidding there’s none of that here.
I haven’t hated a Western in awhile. I didn’t totally hate All the Pretty Horses either, but if I keep giving passes to all the confusing, clunky, and disappointing Westerns it’s like… why have a Hated It section on my website?
Here are the reasons I’ve decided to file this movie under ‘hated it’:
- All the Pretty Horses is based on a Cormac McCarthy novel of the same title, and if you’ve read my Blood Meridian book review you KNOW I detested that McCarthy novel
- If the director and lead actor both hate the movie, they’re probably onto something
- Right up until I watched my thrift store DVD of All the Pretty Horses, I actually thought it was starring Matt Dillon – I was expecting a f*cking Matt Dillon horse movie, then I realized it was Matt Damon and was okay with a Matt Damon horse movie, but it fails to showcase Matt Damon, Matt Dillon, or horses
Do I recommend watching it? Hell no.
All the Pretty Horses starts out as a sort of idealistic post-WWII romantic Western about two young men who leave their Texas family ranches to ride to Mexico and look for work.
John Grady (Matt Damon) goes because he’s hurt that his mom sold off their beloved family ranch, and he just wants to keep ranching. It’s unclear why Lacey Rawlins (Henry Thomas) goes, since his ranch is just fine. Maybe because they’re best friends – but right out of the gate, this movie starts shoving the plot forward way too fast for you to believe any of the relationships.
Along the way they meet a quirky young man named Jimmy Blevins, and ride with him for a bit until Blevins winds up being hunted for stealing back his (possibly stolen) horse.
Grady and Rawlins take work at the ranch of a wealthy don, who of course has a gorgeous daughter (Penelope Cruz). And of course Grady falls in love with her, but can’t have her because of social politics. Then the boys are suddenly arrested and the next hour is like a completely different movie.
Not joking. You could chop the movie off when they land in the Mexican jail, and market each as a separate film to a different audience. Where the first half is all swelling music and secret smiles and not nearly enough bronc busting to deserve the movie’s title, the rest is stark, bleak, and violent.
But as mentioned, All the PrettyHorses moves too quickly to allow for any character development. You can’t buy into any given plot point because everything leading up to it was half-baked. You keep getting yanked forward from scene to scene, without ever having found your footing.
There’s no chemistry between Grady and Alejandra, so the attempts at forcing an epic romantic storyline fall flat. And by rushing through the early scenes, you can’t really buy into everything Grady goes through or how he survives it.
- I only wrote down two notes during the entire first half
- One was “huh, thought this was a Matt Dillon movie”
- The other was “so far it’s just a couple of guys riding with a young guy and giving him shit for some reason, seems rude”
The worst part is the abrupt shift from romance to darkness. I mean really f*cking dark. Grady and Rawlins both barely survive prison. But because you spent 45 minutes being force-fed a lame love story and know nothing about the characters, you simply can’t shift gears fast enough to digest the stronger second half.
How much this movie sucks is no fault of Matt Damon’s.
I’ve become a fan of his over the years. It started with Dogma, then his work in Westerns like Geronimo and True Grit, and even as the voice of Spirit, Stallion of the Cimmaron. He does a great job of his character here, but the movie is still an overall fail.
My favourite performance is Lucas Black as young Blevins. I’m surprised Black hasn’t done more films. Despite the pacing problems, I got so much from his brief appearances that I was thoroughly and emotionally invested in Blevins.
More than anything else about this movie, it was most disappointing to learn that almost everyone involved with All the Pretty Horses hates the version that we all get to see. Why did I just bother watching it? What’s the point of it even existing?
Director Billy Bob Thornton’s original version was an hour longer, with a totally different score. That score played a huge part in the tone. But once shooting was complete, Thornton was ordered to cut it from just under three hours to under two hours – and change the score.
Thornton told Entertainment Weekly, “If you designed a house to be 12,000 square feet and you’ve already built it, and then they said it can only be 7,000 feet because of some zoning thing. You have to cut off 5,000 feet of this house… and you’re an architect… can you imagine?”
In the same interview, Thornton also spoke against marketing the movie as a romance, since the story was never meant to be a romance and Penelope Cruz’ character is only in half of the movie. But the movie poster still wound up all soft tones around two starry-eyed lovers.
Damon has also gone on record saying he’s not a fan of the studio’s critical flop of a cut. “We made this very dark, spare movie, but the studio wanted an epic with big emotions and violins.”
All the Pretty Horses has low and mediocre ratings on IMDb, Metacritic, Rotten Tomatoes, and an inexplicably favourable review from Ebert. Some people gush over it in the comments.
I spent the entire movie not totally sure what I was watching – and wondering why the f*ck the horses were barely getting any screen time. I’m glad I only paid $2.99 for it. It’s going back to the thrift store, and I won’t miss it.