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"Blackthorn": Imagined Life of Butch Cassidy a Cinematic Lark 

Wednesday, Oct 12 2011

Riffing on how outlaw Butch Cassidy's life might have gone had he survived in South America, this modest oater should tickle Western fans. (I assume there are a few of us left.) Blackthorn finds Cassidy (Sam Shepard) still in Bolivia, breeding horses, bedding his Indian housekeeper (Magaly Solier), and making plans to return to the States. After being bushwhacked by a fleeing thief (Eduardo Noriega), Butch — suddenly broke and a sucker for companionship — tags along for one last score. Bad idea. Director Mateo Gil, best known for writing late-'90s thriller Abre los Ojos, finds a good balance between understated drama and the grandiose Bolivian landscape, but Blackthorn's real draw is Shepard. He plays the aging rogue (going by the name James Blackthorn) with a wily mix of restlessness, comic irascibility, and, in a nod to George Roy Hill's 1969 Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, winking acknowledgement of his movie-star status. The extent to which Gil references Hill's film is the biggest surprise here, in fact: Noriega's deadpan exasperation and twitchy 'stache are downright Redfordian, while flashbacks featuring the young Cassidy and Sundance (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau and Padraic Delaney, respectively) evoke its playfulness. This lightness finally overshadows the story's elegiac potential and leaves the toll of Cassidy's exile largely untapped, and even Shepard's magnetism can't lift Blackthorn above the status of cinematic lark.

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Mark Holcomb


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