out of Five
Running time: 102
Engaging and enjoyable, this is an impressively directed, beautifully shot Western with a thoughtful script and terrific performances from Sam Shepard and Eduardo Noriega.
What's it all about?
Directed by Mateo Gil, Blackthorn stars Sam Shepard as an ageing Butch Cassidy, who it turns out, did not in fact die in a hail of bullets in 1908, but survived and has been living out a quiet life in Bolivia under the name James Blackthorn. When he receives word that old flame and former partner-in-crime Etta Place (Dominique McElligott in flashbacks) has died, he withdraws his life savings and sets out for America, intending to visit the nephew (or possibly son) he has never seen.
However, when Blackthorn is ambushed by Spanish prospector Eduardo (Eduardo Noriega), he loses his savings and is forced to team up with the young man, who promises him a share of the gold he's stolen from a Bolivian mine owner if he'll help protect him from the posse who are after him. Collecting the money, the two men attempt to keep one step ahead of the pursuing gunmen as they head for the US, which prompts Blackthorn to flash back to his days with Sundance (Padraic Delaney) and Etta, as a younger man (Headhunters' Nikolaj Coster-Waldau in flashbacks) as the trio tangled with a dogged Pinkerton detective (Stephen Rea).
Shepard is terrific as Blackthorn-slash-Butch, his grizzled, weather-beaten face enhanced with an impressive Kristofferson-style beard and his bones a little creakier but his survival instincts still very much intact. Noriega is equally good as the shifty Spaniard and the two generate an uneasy chemistry that is fascinating to watch, with Eduardo's youth serving to remind Blackthorn that his glory days are most certainly behind him, while at the same time depending on him for his expertise.
Miguel Barros' script (much of which is in Spanish) is thoughtful and intriguing throughout, playing a number of cards close to its chest until the final act. It also throws in some enjoyable riffs on Paul George Roy Hill's Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1968), echoing lines and situations as well as elements of Paul Newman's performance.
In addition, the film is beautifully shot, with cinematographer Juan Ruiz-Anchia making strong use of some terrific Bolivia locations, most notably the stunning Uyuni salt flats, which provide the backdrop to an exciting chase sequence. There's also a superb score by Lucio Godoy.
Blackthorn is a thoroughly enjoyable, thoughtful and emotionally engaging Western with a terrific central performance from Sam Shepard. Highly recommended.