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The plot seems tailor-made for landmark-movie status too. A downbeat, resonant tale that would have intrigued Sam Peckinpah, it tells of two young cowboys from post-WWII Texas, who cross the Rio Grande in search of the rugged adventurous life modern America can no longer offer them. And south of the border they find just what they're looking for--but in harsher, darker and far more brutal guise than they ever dreamt of.
All the ingredients point towards the makings of a classic Western. Yet somehow they never quite jell. Powerfully photographed by Barry Markowitz, All the Pretty Horses looks unfailingly superb, and Ted Tally's screenplay draws on much of the novel's spare, trenchant dialogue. Thornton handles the action sequences with assurance, especially the marathon horse-breaking episode. But it all feels distanced, and never dark or bleak enough for McCarthy's savage vision. Maybe Damon is as yet too young and bland for his character's agonised trajectory. There were rumours of script problems, of scenes ruthlessly excised; Thornton claims that Miramax cut the film. Whatever the causes, the film is handsome to look at, absorbing to watch, but casts few shadows in the mind.
On the DVD: Filmographies for Thornton and half-a-dozen leading players; the theatrical trailer (plus trailers for two other Miramax releases, Finding Forrester and Almost Famous); subtitles and a menu. In something of a missed opportunity the DVD lacks a commentary from Billy Bob could have been illuminating. But at least the crisp print, full-width ratio (1:2.35) and the Dolby 5.1 sound do the film's technical achievements proud. --Philip Kemp