Butch Cassidy rides again in 'Blackthorn'
Butch Cassidy, alive and well, in Bolivia?
In Mateo Gil's beautiful, melancholy south-of-the-equator western, the bicycle-riding rascal of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid - played, of course, by one Paul Newman - gets to live another day.
Seems that reports of the famous outlaw's demise were greatly exaggerated, and now, decades later, Cassidy - calling himself James Blackthorn - can be found holed up in the rocky hills of a South American country, raising horses and keeping company, from time to time, with an Indian woman.
Blackthorn is the portrait of a man with gray in his beard - and with graying memories kicking around his head. He writes letters to a young man in San Francisco who may well be his son. And he plans to go there, as soon as he sells his horses and pockets some extra change from a poker game or two.
Sam Shepard, quiet, watchful, and wonderfully in the moment, is this Cassidy-in-disguise. And while he bears little resemblance to Newman's glinty, blue-eyed scamp - and Blackthorn, subtle and elegiac, bears even less resemblance to George Roy Hill's late-'60s box-office hit - Shepard's performance is one to remember.
As Blackthorn gets embroiled in an unwanted adventure with a stranger claiming to have stashed a fortune, a fire is rekindled. Galloping across the salt flats, hiding out in the canyons, being shot at by furious posses . . . this cowpoke accustomed to a solitary life suddenly finds his pulse quickening, his eyes brightening.
Blackthorn incorporates flashbacks to Butch's earlier escapades - to all that robbing and romance - with the Sundance Kid (Padraic Delaney), Etta Place (Dominique McElligott), and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau as the young Butch/Blackthorn. The flashbacks are a necessary plot device, and not badly done, but it is the here and now, with the old man riding alongside his shiftless new partner (Eduardo Noriega), where the drama lies.
Watching Shepard work his pony down a snaking mountain pass, playing a mandolin and singing the blues, or seeing him sitting, stone-still, beneath a railroad water tank, waiting for something to happen - these are scenes to be cherished, from an actor who has found the soul of the character he's playing.
At these moments, it doesn't matter what the man's name is, or where he came from.