Movie review: ‘Blackthorn’ deftly extends legend of outlaw Butch Cassidy
There are no chipper raindrops falling on the head of Sam Shepard’s rueful, graying outlaw Butch Cassidy in “Blackthorn,” a lovely, melancholy speculation on the aftermath of director George Roy Hill’s Oscar-adorned 1969 classic “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.”
Unlike the twinkly-eyed, bicycle-riding rascal played by Paul Newman, Shepard’s aging, laconic Butch – having amazingly survived the earlier film’s famed freeze-frame shootout finale and now living peacefully under the alias James Blackthorn in Bolivia – is a grizzled old cowboy saddled with a lifetime of regret.
“Blackthorn” is set in 1927, nearly two decades after the infamous outlaw’s supposed death, and finds Butch-alias-Blackthorn a prosperous rancher enjoying anonymity in Bolivia’s rugged outback and the occasional toss in the hay with an exotic local beauty (Magaly Solier).
But when word reaches Butch that his former flame Etta Place (Dominique McElligott) has died in San Francisco, he decides it’s time to come out of hiding, sell his stock, clean out his bank account and head north to reunite with his long-lost son.
From there, first-time director and celebrated Spanish screenwriter Mateo Gil (“Open Your Eyes,” “The Sea Inside”) and writer Miguel Barros dream up a lavish, picturesque misadventure in which Butch loses his grubstake and is thrown together with a shiftless Spanish thief (Eduardo Noriega) in an ill-conceived scheme to rob a local mine.
So, once again, Butch finds himself in the familiar predicament of being hotly pursued by a relentless posse – a situation that sets up an ironic reunion with the dogged Pinkerton man McKinley (Stephen Rea in a gaunt, ghostly performance), who has been on the outlaw’s trail for years. As Butch briskly works his pony through Bolivia’s snaking mountain passes and across its vast deserts, we see rousing flashes of his old outlaw grit and swagger spring back to life in Shepard’s lean, nuanced performance.
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