Buena Vista Pictures, March 2004
Reviewed by Barbara Fielding
HIDALGO is a film inspired by the supposedly true story of Frank T. Hopkins. Hopkins was a cowboy from the 1930's who told tall tales of winning a 3,000 mile race along the Arabian Peninsula, riding on his mustang, Hidalgo.
Hopkins (Viggo Mortenson), a former dispatch rider for the US Cavalry, is tormented due to witnessing the Indian massacre at Wounded Knee. He becomes an angry and drunken man, who joins Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show (J.K. Simmons) as a trick rider. His famous horse, Hidalgo, is billed as having won over 400 races. When representatives from a Bedouin Sheik hear about Hidalgo's reputation, they invite Hopkins to enter his mixed breed mustang in the Ocean of Fire race against Arabian thoroughbreds. Hopkins, a product of mixed blood himself, is the child of an Indian mother and a US soldier. Hidalgo's challenge becomes the symbol of Hopkins' own struggle to prove himself.
Hidalgo is up against the horses of Sheik Riyadh (Omar Sharif) and his daughter Jazira (Zuleikha Robinson), whose family pride is at stake, and a horse owned by the treacherous Lady Davenport (Louise Lombard), who will risk everything to win. The race itself is grueling enough, but there are other dangerous threats to contend with: sensitive cultural situations, natural disasters, and dirty tricks.
There is some controversy over Frank T. Hopkins' claims, but the truth about Hopkins and Hidalgo doesn't diminish the pleasure of this fantastic tale. It's hard to say who's the bigger star of this movie, the rider or the horse. Hidalgo has so much personality and pluck you can't help but fall in love with him. While several horses were used during filming, J. T. is the name of the animal used most in the scenes, and actor Viggo Mortenson is reported to have bought the horse after the movie was completed.
Moviegoers will enjoy the action, exotic setting, and the struggle of two underdogs. It makes a great story. The Sheik portrayed by Omar Sharif is wonderful. There is a brief romantic element between Hopkins, Jazira, and Lady Davenport, but the focus of the film stays on the race itself. HIDALGO is an entertaining story with a fine cast, and is suitable viewing for the entire family. Rated PG13 for adventure violence and some mild innuendo. Running time: 2 hours and 30 minutes.
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