Anyone who considers Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid sacrosanct should probably steer clear of Blackthorn, a sequel of sorts to the classic 1969 western starring Paul Newman and Robert Redford. Spanish filmmaker Mateo Gil (best known for writing the screenplays to Open Your Eyes and The Sea Inside) has figured out to do what even Hollywood couldn’t: Continue the story of the outlaws (or one of them, anyway) who were last seen in freeze-frame, vastly outnumbered and outgunned while making a presumably final stand against the Bolivian army (like Thelma & Louise, the film was re-edited to end just before the protagonists died onscreen).
In the United States, Richard Lester directed a prequel in 1979, Butch and Sundance: The Early Days, that failed to wring a little more money out of the profitable characters. But Gil, working from a screenplay by Miguel Barros, takes the opposite, flashing forward to 1927 Bolivia, where Cassidy, who now looks like Sam Shepard and goes by the name of Blackthorn, is living quietly on a secluded ranch and finally preparing to return to the U.S.
But after cashing out his life savings — $6,000 — from the local bank and beginning the long trek home, Butch is waylaid by a would-be thief, Eduardo (Eduardo Noriega), and left broke, horseless and with a prisoner he neither wants nor needs.
Fortunately, Eduardo has a plan to pay him back, claiming he has a small fortune stashed away in a nearby mine. Unfortunately, he also has a bloodthirsty posse after him, and after a while, even one of Cassidy’s old foes (Stephen Rea) enters the fray.
Like any Western focusing on a former gunslinger’s autumnal years, Blackthorne is moody and contemplative, with stunning widescreen vistas of the Bolivian salt flats doing a fine job of replacing the Monument Valley landscapes that were a staple of John Ford pictures. Gil succeeds at giving the film a beautiful, larger-than-life aura — he’s a gifted visual artist — and the story contains a twist that, although not entirely unexpected, adds considerable juice to the story’s third act.
But Blackthorn’s flashbacks to the young Butch and Sundance (played by Nicolak Coster-Waldau and Padraic Delaney) are as wobbly as Shepard’s attempts at Spanish — inviting direct comparisons to Newman and Redford is never a good idea, even if the flashbacks are important to the story — and although Shepard is perfectly cast as a world-weary outlaw reluctantly drawn into one more adventure, the movie doesn’t quite justify the resuscitation of classic film characters for another outing. Blackthorn juggles timeless Western tropes with skill. The picture would have benefited greatly, though, from leaving dormant movie gods alone.
Cast: Sam Shepard, Eduardo Noriega, Stephen Rea, Magaly Solier, Nicolak Coster-Waldau, Padraic Delaney, Dominique McElligott.
Director: Mateo Gil.
Screenwriter: Miguel Barros.
Producer: Andres Santana, Ibon Cormenzana.
A Magnolia Pictures studios release. Running time: 102 minutes. In English and Spanish with English subtitles. Vulgar language, violence. Plays at 6:45 p.m. Saturday at the Gusman as part of the Recent Cinema From Spain series. Director Mateo Gil will attend.