All The Pretty Horses

All The Pretty Horses (2000)
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Cast: Matt Damon, Penelope Cruz, Bruce Dern
Extras: Trailers, Biographies, Production Notes

Ted Tally. Matt Damon. Billy Bob Thornton. What do these three gentlemen have in common? A big fat Oscar a piece for their screenwriting talents, that’s what. Put these three in a room, throw in a best selling novel, and one could expect a pretty darn good movie right? Right. The problem is, we may never get to see it. Wide spread reports of a three hour director’s cut of "All the Pretty Horses", the adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s south of the border western, overshadow what made it to the theaters and what Columbia TriStar gives us on this DVD.

Starring Matt Damon as John Grady Cole, "All the Pretty Horses" tells the story of two young friends with simple wishes to live their lives as cowboys. The film opens around the funeral of John’s grandfather and owner of the ranch where John has grown up. With the death, the land becomes the rightful possession of John’s mother, whom left him and his father years ago to become a theater actress. John’s mother chooses to sell the land, and with it his cowboy opportunity. So John and best friend Lacy Rawlins (Henry Thomas) head to Mexico. Along the way, they make the acquaintance of a very young Jimmy Blevins (Lucas Black), a kid stubborn as a mule and riding on a very expensive horse that most likely he stole. They continue across the RioGrande and into Mexico where circumstance will cause Blevins to part ways with the two. Further into Mexico, John and Lacy find work on a sprawling ranch and quickly impress the owner (Rueben Blades) with their ability to break over a dozen wild horses in only four days. Their cowboy dreams change a bit when Cole first lays eyes on Alejandra (Penelope Cruz), daughter of the ranch owner. Soon, a relationship is formed. Soon thereafter, it is forbidden. Blevins comes back into the story along with the Mexican Federales. John Grady Cole and his best friend from West Texas are a long way from home and might not make it out alive.

"All the Pretty Horses," ain’t bad but it could’ve been so much better. Having read the book, I can attest that most of it is on screen and the adaptation as a whole is very faithful. Yet, the result of trying to cram this story into a two-hour time limit creates scenes that feel very rushed. The pace of the film is slow, but the scenes aren’t really given the opportunity to breathe. What could have been a slow, long interesting, emotional movie, becomes a slow, not so long, what was the point of that movie. Characters are introduced and then quickly disappear. The true shame of this is, that many of these characters are portrayed by terrific actors, such as Robert Patrick (as John’s father), Sam Shepard (as a local lawyer), and Bruce Dern (as a kind judge). I mean, if you’re going to spend money on these guys, don’t you want to see them on screen for more than two minutes? The actors we do get to spend some time with, however, all turn in pretty good performances. Henry Thomas in particular is impressive as the friend who begins to question his best buddy’s decisions. Lucas Black also has a great character to work with and does the job nicely. Matt Damon does a fine job, but I found myself wishing he didn’t look so much like Matt Damon at times. His character is young indeed, but I think they could’ve added some ruggedness to his physical appearance especially towards the end of the movie and after he has gone through quite the grueling ordeal. Billy Bob Thornton proved to be an extremely talented director with "Sling Blade," and it’s almost unfair to judge his work here considering what he was forced to cut out. It seems, though, to be a mixed bag. There are some great visuals, especially in the film’s opening with flashes of wild horses running against the black night and the subtle movement of the camera at the funeral for John’s grandfather. Then there is the scene where John first meets Alejandra’s Aunt, which comes across completely awkwardly. Thornton uses point of view shots where the eyeline’s don’t seem to match up and just feel so out of place for a scene that should have been a more subdued, important conversation. But then there’s the moment where John first lays eyes on Alejandra, which Thornton absolutely nails. This is such a critical moment, because John and Alejandra’s love blossoms extremely quickly and without a whole lot of interaction (again, true to the book), relying on the idea of love at first sight to power their motivations. If this moment is lost, then a good half of the movie becomes hard to swallow.

Presented in a 2.35:1 <$16x9,anamorphic> <$PS,widescreen> transfer, this is a very good looking disc. The cinematography by Barry Markowitz is one of the highlights of the film, and it is not mistreated here. As with any western, the landscape is almost a character itself in the film. The browns and oranges of the desert and the southwestern hills are bright and crisp with good separation. Watch the shadows of the clouds move across the rocks and keep your eyes peeled for the occasional lightning bolt in from the darkness of a thunderhead. Black level is good, though not as deep as it maybe should have been. Watch that awkward scene with Alejandra’s aunt and you should see what I mean (right beside her head, no less!). Another complaint is the occasional edge blemish, which flashes up towards the end of a few scenes. It’s almost as if some of the tails of the print are damaged, but I’m not positive that’s the case.

The audio track is presented in <$DD,Dolby Digital> 5.1 and <$DS,Dolby Surround> 2.0. The digital track obviously stands out, with very nice range and depth. It’s not an ear-pounding track, but the film does have some gunshots and horse hooves to impress your folks. The front channels sound very clear, handling the dialogue with no distortion or lack of clarity at all. Surround work is limited but effective when used. Much of the film’s audio highlights come from the score by Marty Stuart. A mix of Spanish influence with country and western, the music is also complete with some very nice subwoofer sweetness.

Since we weren’t given the director’s cut of the film, it’s no big surprise that the disc is stingy with the special features. Along with theatrical trailers for the film, "Legends of the Fall," "Dogma," and "All About My Mother,"all we are privy to are a few talent bios. There’s also some short production notes included in the booklet, but it doesn’t amount to much. This seems such a shame to me because there has to be an interesting story behind this film. Originally scheduled for theatrical release by Columbia, the film was turned over to Miramax. Those of you who follow the Oscar hype no doubt are aware of the controversy surrounding Miramax’s ability to land Best Picture nominations for films that are less critically acclaimed than some of their competition. So here they are suddenly acquiring a film made by three Oscar winners, and what do they do? They throw it out into a crowded holiday market with very little promotion (that I saw at least) and let it drown. As far as I know, it was Columbia who ordered the shorter version, and I have to wonder if Miramax even considered letting Thornton put out his longer cut. Did Billy Bob even have a say at all about the release of his film? Also, watch the trailer and notice that the credits read music by Daniel Lanois (Sling Blade, U2 producer), yet in the film Lanois only receives an "additional music by" credit at the end of the film. What’s the story behind this? Wouldn’t a commentary be nice right about now?

"All the Pretty Horses" is a good movie made by talented people that deserved a better fate in the theaters. There’s little doubt in my mind that the rumored director’s cut would clearly be the superior version of this film, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth seeing in it’s present form. A good transfer and audio track help this DVD from being a solid disappointment due to the lack of features. It seems pretty clear that Columbia TriStar still doesn’t know what to do with this film. Maybe someone someday will.