Saturday, April 12, 2014

All the Pretty Horses

Mr. Axel Foley, on loan to the Beverly Hills Police Department from someplace in the Midwest, came to my hospital room today to question me about Herbert Scrawcrunch's unfortunate demise. He was really quite a charming Black man, just approaching middle age. I would have taken to him immediately if he hadn't broken out in this braying laugh at the most inopportune moments. His superiors really should speak to him about it. I offered him some espresso with a twist, and then a banana from the lovely fruit basket Ann Miller had sent and I thought he'd never shut up. It appears that the police are fairly certain that Doreen shot her unfortunate Herbert before making her escape with my gardener. Mr. Foley also told me to be prepared for some difficult times when I first get home. Apparently Herbert and Doreen were making themselves rather free with the amenities of Chateau Maine and left things in some disrepair.

I can't worry about that right now as I've had some rather distressing news from Joseph, my manager. The decline in the economy has apparently led to a decline in the demand for luxurious consumer goods and that's not been kind to the quality products from MNM enterprises. Sales of GlamourPuss gowns, VickiWear, Vicki's Secret intimates, Lesterene brand make-up, MNM collector dolls, and my Bradford Edition Christmas ornaments are all down. Joseph advises that I get myself back before the cameras in a high profile motion picture as soon as possible and that I launch a renewed advertising blitz to remind the women of America that their lives are incomplete without some small piece of my irresistible glamour in their wardrobes or on their dressing tables. As the leg cast is set to come off early this next week, I should be able to get hopping on something right away. I told Joseph to send over any appropriate scripts for perusal immediately.

I then propped my injured leg up on my new Tempur-Pedic pillow and popped the latest Netflix arrival into my DVD compatible laptop in order to lose myself in a quality film entertainment for several hours. I was to be disappointed. Today's film was Billy Bob Thornton's 2000 adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's novel, All The Pretty Horses with Matt Damon and Penelope Cruz. I have read the original novel which is an elegiac meditation on themes of loss and change. The resulting film, however, plays like an eighth grade book report. The plot is there, but the themes and characters that marked the novel as special have been jettisoned in order to get the story to fit into a two hour time slot.

Matt Damon stars as John Grady Cole, a young man brought up on a Texas cattle ranch and who thinks there can be nothing finer in life than a good horse and a cowboy's life on the prairie. Only the world is changing around him; the ending of World War II has brought enormous upheaval to society. The death of his grandfather, the original rancher, brings the fate of the land into the hands of his mother, an actress, from whom he is estranged. When it becomes clear that he will not be able to remain a rancher, he resolves to go south to Mexico, accompanied by his friend Lacy Rawlins (Henry Thomas). The two men are determined to make a future for themselves on an old fashioned horse and cattle ranch, which they hear still exists on the other side of the border. Off they go, swimming their horses across the Rio Grande to become wetbacks in reverse.

They are soon joined by a third young man, Jimmy Blevins (Lucas Black), much younger than themselves but riding a fine horse. The three go further and further south into unfamiliar territory, despite knowing little of the customs or language of Mexico. They have encounters with nature and with unfriendly natives, but Cole and Rawlins eventually find the spread of their dreams, La Purissima, where they go to work for the Don (Reuben Blades). Cole eventually falls for the Don's young daughter, Alejandra (Penelope Cruz) and a chain of events is unleashed which leads to prison, violent death, redemption and maturity.

The film has one ravishing visual of wide open spaces after another. The pictures it presents are pretty and the design, from the ranch hacienda through a hellish Mexican prison, shows a keen eye for visual detail. The performances are also quite good. All three of the leads (Damon, Thomas and Black) endow their characters with an undercurrent of honesty and backbone that makes their story and their fate of interest. Penelope Cruz, alas, remains as wan and uninteresting in this film as in all of her other performances. She looks a bit less like Daffy Duck than in some, and sounds more comfortable as the majority of her dialog is in Spanish, but she's never going to be the star certain Hollywood powers wish her to be. Most of the supporting cast has had their roles chopped to next to nothing so it's hard to give much of an appraisal of their work. Robert Patrick, as Damon's father, has been reduced to such a momentary cipher, that I blinked and nearly missed him.

The film's major fault is the hatchet editing job which cuts the heart out of the film and its reason for existence. Having seen some of Billy Bob Thornton's other film work, it's not his fault. My sources reveal that Thornton's rough cut of the film was nearly four hours long. It was, supposedly, a lyrically beautiful film which gave full credence to the themes of the novel, faithfully captured by screenwriter Ted Tally. Harvey Weinstein, head of Miramax and producer of the film insisted on a shorter cut. Thornton cut the film to about three hours. Weinstein was still not satisfied and shortened the film again, over Thornton's strenuous objections, to just under two. This osterized cut was then released, and sank like a stone with the critics and at the box office. The drastic editing job meant that the original score to the film had to be removed and replaced with the current one, sort of an Elmer Bernstein manqué collection of Coplandesque themes. The original composer was so incensed that he has refused permission for his score to be used on any other version of the film, making a director's cut of the film impossible for now. It's a shame, for there may be a good film in all of the missing footage. What appears now isn't.

The DVD is a bare bones release. There's the film, in good wide-screen transfer and surround sound, some bios and the trailer and little else.

Dead grandfather. River swimming. Flash flood. Wet union suit underwear. Horse thieving. Gratuitous skinny dipping. Eccentric aunt. Prison knife fight. Police kidnapping. Gratuitous Bruce Dern.

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