I suppose some people would say this technically isn't a western, since most of it takes place in the Middle East and it doesn't have many of the characteristics of a true western movie. However, it is about a cowboy and his horse, his Native American heritage, and some of the story takes place in a Wild West show, so I've always considered it as a western. Plus, this is the movie that got me hooked on westerns in the first place, and Viggo Mortensen was my first ideal of a cowboy, so I kind of owe a lot to this film. :-)
Let me begin by saying simply that I love this movie. To death. For me, it has all the elements a good movie should have (except maybe romance): historical detail, drama, good dialogue, adventure, action but not too much that it's tiresome. It's kind of a horse movie, but not obsessively so-- in other words, it's not all about the horse. It's also based on a true story, and I tend to like those kinds of movies best. And, of course, the factor of Viggo Mortensen, who really ought to be in more westerns.
Frank is by nature and circumstances pretty much a loner, having been on his own for so long and not really having a home or a family, except for his beloved horse and best friend, Hidalgo. He's a cowboy who was once sitting on top of the world but has now fallen from glory and turned into a kind of misfit. He's half-Indian and has hidden his Indian heritage all his life, but he's always felt that he doesn't belong anywhere. The Ocean of Fire race becomes not only a challenge of proving the worth of his horse, but also a personal journey of finding out who he really is.
Viggo Mortensen is, in a word, amazing. For a while after seeing this, in addition to being completely obsessed (annoyingly so to my sisters, apparently), Viggo Mortensen earned the high honor of being my favorite actor. While he's no longer my absolute favorite, this performance continues to rank him in my top ten, at least. Since he's the central figure as well as pretty much the only main character, he kind of owns the movie. Viggo Mortensen can make a character seem strong and pitiful at the same time-- if I remember correctly (which is debatable), he was kind of the same way in The Lord of the Rings as Aragorn. At times he's all tough guy, yet at others we see him as being more vulnerable, almost pathetic. Frank is really a deep character, and Viggo Mortensen absolutely shines in this role.
|That dimple in his chin!|
The Sheik of sheiks, played by Omar Sharif, is the wealthiest and most respected man in the area, and is at once friendly and distrustful of Frank. He views him as both a curiosity and a potential threat to his horse, the famous Al-Hattal, winning the Ocean of Fire. He is very interested about life in the American West and asks Frank to tell him about "this Wyatt Earp, and Doctor Holliday", but he also mistrusts and kind of shuns Frank for being an outsider. He tells Frank that he once had five sons, but all of them died, and now he is left with just one daughter, Jazira.
Not a huge fan of Jazira. She's nice enough, I guess, and I like that she wants to help Frank win the race so that her father won't marry her off to some creep, but for some reason I just don't like her very much. It's almost implied that she's supposed to be the love interest, but I don't think so. Even if she were interested in Frank (which, I must say, it would be hard not to be), Frank obviously isn't interested in a relationship at this time. Plus there's the age factor-- she's about nineteen, and he's got to be almost forty. I've never liked the part where she has Frank pull off her face covering and says, "Why do I feel like you truly see me, when others do not?" because it just sounds...lame. Of course, Frank picks right up and says, "Well, my horse likes you," which makes the moment less awkward and makes my admiration for him soar to even greater heights.
Lady Ann Davenport is an intriguing character. She's a wealthy horse owner who, if her horse wins the race, will have secured breeding rights to Al-Hattal, the Sheik's mare. She's kind of the femme fatal of the story, and while most of her actions are in her own interests, there are some things I like about her. For instance, her courage to come to the Middle East all by herself, the only woman among hundreds of male riders and owners, and her independent attitude. Nothing seems to frighten Lady Ann, except for the possibility that her horse might not actually win the race. At heart, she's motivated by selfish desires, and will do anything, no matter how ugly, to get what she wants.
At first, Lady Ann and Frank are friends, and Lady Ann actually tries to persuade him to quit the race and bribes him with money, but Frank refuses. Then she tries to seduce him, but Frank is too good for that and in one of my favorite scenes he lets her know that he will not be moved by saying simply, "Goodnight, ma'am."
There are other supporting characters, but they're mostly just a bunch of Arabian men riding horses who all look pretty much the same so it's easy to get confused on who's who. Most of them are usually being mean to Frank and doing things to keep him from winning the race. One of them (you see I can't remember their names) is the one who rides Lady Ann's horse, there's the guy riding Al-Hattal who has a bird with a bell on its leg that he keeps with him, and another is the creepy guy who wants to marry Jazira, who also happens to be the Sheik's nephew, who kidnaps her and demands his uncle to ransom her by giving him the book of their family's horse secrets or something like that. He's not actually in the race, he just goes around making trouble. In short, he's a pretty awful guy.
The last stretch of the race is one of the most exciting scenes in movie history, in my opinion. At least, for me it is. There are three riders left-- the guy on Lady Ann's horse, the guy riding Al-Hattal, and Frank, who is known to the natives as "cowboy". There's a young boy who's up in a tower with a looking glass giving a report on the riders, and at first he can only see two, but then he rings the bell and shouts, "Cowboy!", whereupon everyone is surprised that Frank has made it this far. It just gets me every time. :-)
I could go on and on with my favorite scenes, but that would spoil the movie for the rest of y'all who haven't seen it, so I won't tell you about the best parts. ;-P
I cannot, however, neglect to mention the ending scene. This scene is so beautiful but so sad and always makes me cry. And I don't even really like horses, people, so that means this is really something special. After the race Frank returns home to the states and buys a whole herd of previously-wild mustangs, which he then lets go free again. As he's watching them all run free and wild, he turns around to look at Hidalgo, and takes his harness off, giving him back his freedom to run wild again in one powerful phrase: "Let 'er buck."
.....and with tears in his eyes, Frank lets his beloved 'little brother' free again. Oh, for goodness' sakes, just watch it.
As with most movies, the music plays a huge part in the movie's worth for me. The soundtrack for Hidalgo, composed by James Newton Howard, is one of my favorites. The music is decidedly western in feel, and while Frank is in Arabia there's a lot of middle eastern influences in the score. The whole score is exciting, and the opening theme especially is gorgeous.
Frank's costumes are some of the finest cowboy outfits I've seen. He spends most of the movie being dirty, wearing the same clothes, but he cleans up real well and can be a very sharp dresser. I especially love his outfit for the last scene, and the Indian necklace that he's wearing, which you can kind of see in the above picture. Below is the outfit that he wears for most of the time in Arabia.
Hidalgo is rated PG-13 for action and some mild innuendo. The action is mostly pretty mild, with just one scene where Hidalgo is injured that's kind of graphic. There is some language, but not much, and it's not very frequent-- hardly anything compared to most movies like this. There's one scene where Frank and Jazira are talking, and Jaffa comes upon them and misunderstands what's happening, reporting to the Sheik that Frank was compromising his daughter. It's mostly just eluded to, and would probably go right over a young child's head. Other than that, there's not any content to worry about.
(The only thing I don't like about this trailer is that there's so much in it that isn't from the movie-- almost every single line they say isn't actually in the film.)
All in all, a GREAT movie that I'd recommend to....well, pretty much anyone. :-)