Wednesday 11 April 2012

Butch is back: "Blackthorn"

There's plenty to like about the Spanish Western Blackthorn, which proceeds from an evocative proposition - what if, as some historians have speculated, Butch Cassidy survived the shootout with the Bolivian army that provided the now-iconic freeze-frame finale to George Roy Hill's much-loved 1969 film? Sam Shepard takes a rare substantial leading role as the greyer, stragglier Butch, holed up with a younger native woman in a small Bolivian village under the new identity of James Blackthorn; in the absence of the fallen Sundance, male companionship arrives in the form of a bank robber (Eduardo Noriega), who first tries to make off with our hero's horse before sticking around and trying to repay his debts - and it turns out he has rather a lot of those.

"Uncle Butch"'s letters home to the Son of Sundance, heard in voiceover, establish the abiding theme of male friendship; the rest is left to Shepard and Noriega, the cranky oldtimer and the toothy newcomer, who trot from initial suspicion to grudging respect via an array of unusual balms for bullet wounds and saddle sores, before a surprise betrayal leaves the older man with one last mission to complete. Director Mateo Gil - Alejandro Amenábar's screenwriter on Tesis and Open Your Eyes - surrounds them with striking salt flats and hilltops; both the present-day action, and the flashbacks, plotting the progress of the younger, more idealistic Butch and Sundance (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau and Padraic Delaney), express a real delight in seeing the world alongside someone you care about. With nicely crusty support from Stephen Rea as a former Pinkerton who's had nothing much to do since Butch apparently bit the dust (and is almost delighted to see him return), it's actually a far more satisfying and richly romantic successor to Hill's film than Fox's "official" prequel Butch and Sundance: The Early Days, allowing a wisened yet still totemic figure one more chance to mount up and ride into the sunset.

Blackthorn opens in selected cinemas from Friday.

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