“Hidalgo” is often times a very fun and exciting throwback to old time serials, with a guiltless innocence that is family fun through and through without the taint of colorful characters. And it is a lot of fun from beginning to end with a great story that everyone can really become involved in. Based on the supposedly and debatably true accounts of Frank Hopkins, an adventurer who risked tooth and nail during an epic race across the desert. Though it can be debated if the events depicted here ever really happened, what we see on-screen most of the time is a lot of fun as post-Aragorn Viggo Mortensen takes the reins of adventure hero this time and really packs a punch as the anti-hero Frank who is haunted by the slaughter of his people, and is in a bitter battle with his conscience over his heritage as a Native American.
Mortensen presents much charisma for the role of Frank and relies more on his soft spoken swagger than depending on his lines. The film is often times very engrossing with Mortensen giving a good performance as Hopkins presenting much humility as well as charisma when in battle. He’s great in this performance and really heads off the film with a lot of power. As for his horse Hidalgo, it’s a great performance by so many trained horses, and they manage to play well against Mortensen. “Hidalgo” is essentially more of a throwback to serials and adventure films that really get down the spirit of the old time westerns and gives us much entertainment. There are some brutally intense action sequences from the sand storms to the battles with assassins and even some wild sequences involving Frank’s attempt to keep from going hungry by eating some unusual supplies at his disposal.
Now, while “Hidalgo” does occasionally bring about the atmosphere and novel feel of the old time serials, much of it is just hit or miss, and the misses come out more blatantly than the hits. “Hidalgo” is often very cheesy, and a bit dreadful to watch. With a lot of fights in this and supporting characters that are hardly ever interesting, it’s sad that such a long and fascinating film would fail in keeping the audiences attention for its entirety. There are many scenes that just induced eye rolls from me on occasions I knew should have been exciting. The fight scenes are often rigid and uneventful, the racing sequences lack any emotion or exhilaration, and the dialogue is very corny. Sometimes too corny to be taken seriously. It’s very hard to discern whether the writers intended for campy or just couldn’t get Viggo to spout the lines with enough conviction to deem it a serious one-liner.
We delve off in to a lot of sub plots, from the sheik who is sometimes bonding with Frank, and sometimes just wants to murder him. Omar Sharif is on whole hog acting, while Viggo can just never seem to keep up. Meanwhile the plots are everywhere from the young daughter seeking to prove herself to her father, to the villager seeking to kill the elder, to Hopkins’ odd assistants, and all of this is happening while I’m wondering “What’s up with the race?” I mean the advertising leads us to believe the film is basically about the trek, but we don’t see it as much as I would have liked and the film becomes overall disappointing in its promises of action and excitement. With gorgeous cinematography by Shelly Johnson, we get some great landscapes to look at that director Johnston features amidst the rollicking racing sequences and exciting climax that really seals up the film well.
We get some great walk on’s by Malcolm McDowell, and JK Simmons, and Omar Sharif is in rare form here as an Arab king who seeks to win the race at all costs while his daughter romances Hopkins. Sharif gives a great performance here and plays off well against Mortensen. There is a lot here to like with fun fight scenes (one of which resembling “Tom Horn”), some tense moments involving assassins, and great characterization including Frank who really relies on his heritage to get by amidst the thieves and bandits he has to compete with in the race. Whether or not the events depicted really happened to Hopkins, it’s still a damn fun story. In spite of it all, “Hidalgo” is mostly a series of hit and miss sequences with any real texture or substance to its story. in the end though, I had a lot of fun with Mortensen who is exciting to watch, and the stunning direction.