Monday, March 08, 2004

Going from King to Cowboy

Originally published in The Vanguard, the student newspaper of The University of South Alabama

Life must be great for a certain man named Viggo Mortensen these days. "The Return of the King," the final film in the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy, is still raking in the cash at the box office, second only to "Titanic" for highest worldwide box office earnings of all time. Box office numbers continue to climb as more people see this film. Fans of the trilogy hope to see it surpass "Titanic" any day now.

But there is another reason Mortensen should be happy about life lately. His first post "Lord of the Rings" film, "Hidalgo'" opened Friday with the third highest daily gross, behind "The Passion of the Christ" and "Starsky and Hutch."

For this film, Mortensen traded his trusty steed Brego from "Lord of the Rings," for a spirited Mustang named Hidalgo. Instead of being a king of Middle Earth, he is a troubled cowboy of the Wild West who is haunted by images from his past.

Though the stories are quite different, one thing remains the same; Mortensen is a compelling and enchanting actor who looks great riding a horse!

While some critics have been a bit negative about this film, I tend to take a more, well, casual approach (hence the name, The Casual Critic!) I found this film to be worth my time and entirely enjoyable.

The story is inspired by the life of Frank Hopkins, a legendary horseman who participated in many horse races. The story centers around "The Ocean of Fire," a 3,000-mile endurance race across the desert. Hopkins pits his mixed-blood Mustang against purebred horses to prove that it is not blood, but strength of will that makes a horse a winner. Along the way, Hopkins meets several surprises, as does the audience. Though the end may be a bit predictable, it is still very satisfying, though a bit cheesy.

Mortensen uses this role to prove that, not only can he play a dramatic role, but he also has impeccable comedic timing and great chemistry with anyone who is on screen with him, even the beautiful "painted" horse, Hidalgo, his main co-star. Hidalgo was, in fact, played by five different horses, who were not actually Mustangs at all, due to the fact that Mustangs are not easy to train for camera work.

"Hidalgo" is a fun romp with enough action and adventure to keep the audience satisfied and is enhanced by a great soundtrack. Some of the visual effects could have been better, but the performances of the actors and the gorgeous horses more than made up for it.

The Casual Critic gives "Hidalgo" a B+ and advises fans of horses, adventures and Viggo Mortensen to gallop to the theaters to see this great adventure.