Saturday, October 15, 2011

Mateo Gil: The South American West (Blackthorn)

Sam Shepard, Blackthorn, Magnolia Pictures, 2011.

The neglected American art form of the Western gets a considerable lift in Spanish writer-director Mateo Gil's incandescent new film, Blackthorn. A follow-up, of sorts, to whatever became of legendary outlaw Butch Cassidy, after the end of George Roy Hill's iconic film, Gil and his excellent team pull us into a sweeping, yet austere and intimate, counterpart to the Wild West we've always known through tall-tales, television and movies. The South American West is just as dangerous, and possibly even more dangerously breathtaking.

Cinematographer Juan Ruiz Anchia penetrates the heart of the distant vistas, leaving just enough room for our imaginations to take shape. Gil rarely steps wrong in materializing scripter Miguel Barros' languid, sparse world. It's a tricky thing for what is in essence an adventure film, to pull off, but Gil triumphs, tipping his hat to Altman, Ford, Eastwood, Hawks, Leone, and Malick in the fascinating process.

Sam Shepard, the ruggedly laconic actor-playwright, finds the correct scaling of introversion and aggression as Cassidy. He carries the picture in a turn so good it reminds us how many underused actors of yesteryear are out there. As he makes his way through the escalating violence of this new West, this episodic, moody mini-epic takes flight. Eduardo Noriega and Steven Rea bristle and combust as his cohorts along the way.

Gil previously directed two genre-films little seen outside of Spain, the thriller Nobody Knows Anybody (1999) and the horror film Spectre (2006), both well done. He is better known as the other half of one of the most interesting writing teams currently working. With writer-director Alejandro Amenabar, he created the indispensable films Thesis (1996),Open Your Eyes (1998), The Others (2001), The Sea Inside (2004) and Agora (2009). This exceptional work is conclusive; with the great Western Blackthorn, Gil has arrived as a masterful filmmaker in his own right.

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