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Hidalgo (12A)



Review by: Jack Foley | Rating: Two

DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: 'Sand And Celluloid' featurette (9 mins); The Horse Is Good (Easter Egg).

HOLLYWOOD, it seems, seldom allows the facts to get in the way of a good story. In Hidalgo’s case, the story in question is terrific fun, which makes for perfect family viewing, but the tale it purports to tell may never have happened.

Viggo Mortensen, in his first significant role since the Lord of the Rings trilogy, stars as legendary cowboy racer, Frank T Hopkins, who is invited to enter the Ocean of Fire, a gruelling, 3,000-mile survival race across the Arabian desert, with his trusted horse, Hidalgo.

The ensuing race becomes not only a fight for survival, but a matter of pride and honour for many of the participants, as well as the chance for Hopkins to exorcise some past demons, and face up to his Indian background.

And, for the most part, it is a rousing story, well-told by Jurassic Park III director, Joe Johnston, which makes the most of its lavish locations, as well as its action-adventure potential.

The only thing is that viewers may become blinded by the sandstorm surrounding its historical accuracy, for while Hopkins and Hidalgo undoubtedly existed, the film has landed in trouble with the Long Riders' Guild (LRG), an international equestrian group, who seriously question the validity of its claims.

According to the LRG, Hopkins was ‘a counterfeit cowboy’, who invented his tales for publication in a book he wrote decades after his alleged achievements. Their comments are chronicled in a book, Hidalgo and Other Stories.

The film has also fallen foul of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, which has, almost inevitably, criticised it for stereotyping Muslims and Arabs, and for presenting, as fact, a race that they claim never existed.

Hopkins may never even have set foot in Arabia, according to other sources, who are wary of the movie’s post-script, which bills Hopkins as a hero.

These are claims that its star, Mortensen, vigorously denies, but, with this in mind, it is perhaps all the more understandable why Hidalgo feels less of a story in its own right, as it does a collection of other movies - albeit carried off in such a way as to appear like a homage.

Johnston, himself, states that he ‘envisioned this as an action-adventure in the vein of the classics of the 40s and 50s, a terrific story that includes high drama, incredible action, exotic locations and, of course, a great hero’.

Yet the film also feels like a family version of The Last Samurai, given Hopkins’ self-loathing for helping to commit military atrocities, mixed with elements of Lawrence of Arabia, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Seabiscuit and Sinbad.

It is also hindered by a curiously tedious running time, which is likely to leave some feeling saddle sore.

Yet, for all of its failings, and dubious grounding in reality, the film does remain a hopelessly old-fashioned, feel-good story, which is bolstered by a typically charismatic star turn from Mortensen and a wily supporting performance from the veteran Omar Sharif.

It may suffer by comparison with those it is trying to imitate, but it possesses bundles of energy, during its action set pieces, and a compelling central relationship between man and horse.

For those willing to ride along with it, there is plenty to enjoy - so long as you don’t fall for all that it preaches.

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