Ladies and gentlemen, there’s a new epic hero taking over movie screens near you, and his name is Viggo Mortensen. Best known for portraying Aragorn in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, Mortensen has now fully embraced his status as an epic master with his new Disney movie, Hidalgo. A tale of a horse and his boy, Hidalgo is based on the life of Frank Hopkins, a pony express courier and long distance champion and his Mustang horse, Hidalgo. Together they won over 400 long-distance races, including the gruelling 3,000 mile race through the “Ocean of Fire” in Saudi Arabia which this movie is based on.
Wouldn’t this be a great movie if any of what I just wrote were actually true? Too bad it isn’t! Yes, folks, Frank Hopkins was pretty much a fraud and a liar who fabricated his entire past. Not only did the man never so much as compete in one long-distance race, but he lived in the East, not the dusty West, and was employed as a subway tunnel digger, harbour diver, and circus horse handler throughout his life, as reported by fact checkers at the Los Angeles Times. This kind of burst the bubble on the movie for me, and makes me pissed off at Disney, who tout Hidalgo as based on a true story and even have closing captions elaborating on Hopkins’ imaginary triumphs.
As for the movie itself, Mortensen does do a competent job as the fictional Hopkins, a true cowboy of the dying Old West, valuing honesty and integrity. However, his best moments come once he’s been transported out of his home and into the East, where there is no greenery in sight, and the desert stretches out into the hazy horizon. The entire movie shifts up and really finds its pace once the fabled race across the “Ocean of Fire” begins, and we’re introduced to Sheikh Riyadh, played by the inimitable Omar Sharif. Jolly and gap-toothed, Sheikh Riyadh is the one who invited Hopkins to enter the race to see if his Hidalgo was any match for the peerless Arabian thoroughbreds.
The race is intense, to say the least, as it stretches out over mirage-inducing days that make your mouth dry up and your lips chap. Of course, not all of the race takes place in the desert. What would be the fun in that? A ridiculous side plot has Hopkins befriending the headstrong daughter of Sheikh Riyadh, Jazira, played by Zuleikha Robinson. Later, he also gets to rescue her from kidnappers who wanted to trade her for the Sheikh’s purebred horse, Al-Hattal. Not that this little side trip prevents him from winning the race, of course.
Oh, if that little blurb just ruined the movie for you, wake up! Of course Hopkins and Hidalgo win the race, it’s a Disney movie! The point here isn’t the tension of whether or not the hero in the white hat (and in this case he does actually have a white hat, albeit very dirty) will triumph over the bad guys in black (robes, not hats in this instance), but how exactly he wins and what sort of adventures he has along the way.
As an adventure movie, Hidalgo succeeds in keeping the viewer entertained, if not engrossed. If you love sweeping landscapes then seeing this in the theatre is a wonderful experience. Otherwise, I’d recommend this one for video.
Archived article by Sue Karp