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Hidalgo (2004)

Unbridled. Unbroken. Unbeaten.

Rating: 7/10

Running Time: 136 minutes

UK Certificate: 12a

Less than a year has passed since we all cheered at a horrendously ginger Tobey Maguire as he romped along the final furlong on ‘Seabiscuit’, and already it’s time for another ambitious period epic named after a horse. And no, before you ask, it’s not ‘Mr Ed’.

Jumping into the saddle this time is Viggo Mortensen, at age 43 something of a late developer on Hollywood’s A-list circuit. He was, of course, catapulted into top-bill status by his role as Aragorn in the ‘Lord of the Rings’ trilogy – but now it’s make or break time for the perma-stubbled Scandinavian. Does he really have the pulling power and screen presence to hold his own as a serious big-namer now that Pete Jackson and his Hobbits are safely back in the Shire? ‘Hidalgo’, a genre-bending western from ‘Jumanji’ director Joe Johnston, is his chance to shout “Yes!”. Or at least mumble it as, given his standard method of dialogue delivery, is probably more likely.

It’s 1890, and the Vigmeister is Frank Hopkins, a Cowboy who’s also part Indian, and gets funny looks for clopping about on the wild, untamed mustang of the title. He was once a hero, but has lately been reduced to drunken makeup-wearing sideshow in Buffalo Bill’s nightly re-enactment of Wild West derring-do. But life takes a dramatic turn when he’s asked (or, rather, told) to sail off to the Middle East and take part in an outrageously dangerous and unnecessarily long (3,000 miles, in fact) desert horse race.

What follows is part ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’, part ‘The Searchers’, part ‘Seabiscuit’, part ‘The Last Samurai’ and part ‘Wacky Races’ – but for the most part it works surprisingly well. In-between evading the dirty tricks of his Dick Dastardly-like opponents (that’s right – they stop ahead of him to lay traps and cheat even though they’re IN FRONT ANYWAY) and narrowly avoiding having his knackers chopped off by an angry Sheikh (Omar Sharif), he even finds time to rescue a semi-attractive Arabian Princess and skirt around the issue of nookie. The romantic stuff never actually comes to much, but there’s definitely a bit of flirting going on between him and the horse.

All in all it’s an enjoyable, if bumpy ride, with some smashing sparingly-used special effects and an entertaining plotline (it’s based extremely loosely on a true story – and that’s “loosely” as in “none of this stuff ever happened”). As for our friend Mr Mortensen? Well, he doesn’t disappoint as the hero – and it’s not his fault that he’s totally overshadowed in the acting department (as are the rest of the cast) by the film’s REAL star. That’s the horse, in case you’re wondering.

It's Got: A smack in the face with a shovel.

It Needs: Some lip-balm.


Horsing around, Viggo-style.