Blackthorn follows the oft spoken myth that the legendary outlaw Butch Cassidy didn’t die at the hands of the Bolivian army in 1908, but instead made it out alive to live out the remainder of his days in hiding.The film is set in 1927, almost twenty years after his outlaw days alongside The Sundance Kid (who did meet his maker in South America), and follows the traditional elegiac and somewhat revisionist path in its depiction of a folkhero of the west, his day long passed, now reaching the twilight of his years. But apart from that, Blackthorn is a film which seems to be equally as much about how the western genre itself is a relic out of time in today's cinema.
Taking the role of Butch - a role made famous by Paul Newman, so y'know, no pressure - is the playwright/actor/director Sam Shepard. It's a suitably laconic and grizzly performance that suggests the rebellious nature the bandit once had alongside the weariness of exile and the craving to be himself once more and return home.
At the start of the film we learn that he has spent the past two decades living in a Bolivian village as James Blackthorn. He has been making his living as a rancher and saving his money to the point where he now feels his legend is ancient enough history to allow him to discreetly leave Bolivia and head back to the States, where he hopes to finally meet a 'nephew' who is most likely his biological son, having been born to fellow Wild Bunch gang member, Etta Place.
Upon leaving the country however, Cassidy crosses paths with a young bandit played by Eduardo Noriega who has a posse hot on the young man's heels. Unable to shake the old ways off, Cassidy agrees to mentor and aid the young man thus finding himself something of a replacement Sundance.
Blackthorn is a watchable enough endeavour blessed by the beautiful Bolivian vistas that director Mateo Gil captures and the interesting and enjoyable character work from Shephard. There's also some great flashbacks to the young charismatic trio of Butch (Game of Thrones Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) Sundance (Padraic Delaney) and Etta (Dominique McElligott) living it up on the run in South America. Gil seems to have as much fun capturing these scenes, which call back to the romantic notion of the Old West and Old Hollywood, choosing to embrace the shadow of George Roy Hill’s classic 1969 film Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and salute it, rather than ignore it.
Whilst it may not be the greatest of modern day westerns, Blackthorn still manages to offer some excitement, enjoyment and a few great twists and turns, making it still a decent enough way to pass 100 minutes, especially in Shephard's company, for it is he who perhaps makes it truly worthwhile and rightly takes centre stage. That said, the supporting cast is also fine and commendable and there's even Stephen Rea as an equally weary Pinkerton man proving once more how little difference there is between the hunter and the hunted.
Today marks the second anniversary of my grandfather's passing. Not a day has gone by where I haven't missed him. He loved a good western, so I'd like to dedicate this review/post to him.