Period adventure set in 1890 based on a true story, starring Viggo Mortensen as Frank T Hopkins, a former US Cavalry officer with a reputation for being one of the fastest and most daring riders in the West. When he meets Aziz (Adam Alexi-Malle), an associate of wealthy Bedouin Sheikh Riyadh (Omar Sharif) in New York, Aziz invites him to take part in 'The Ocean of Fire', a gruelling annual 3000-mile desert horse race across the deserts of the Middle East from Arabia to Iraq. Hopkins accepts the challenge and, along with his trusty steed Hidalgo, sails to Arabia - where he quickly learns that the race course claims the lives of nearly half of its contestants, and that most of his competitors are riding pure-bred Arabian stallions and do not regard Hidalgo and his master as worthy adversaries. But with the support of Riyadh and his beautiful, spirited daughter, Jazira (Zuleikha Robinson), Hopkins determines to give the race his best shot...
Director Joe Johnston has always had an entertaining sense of adventure, and with Hidalgo
he proves it in spades. It's yet another underrated film for Johnston (along with such enjoyable popcorn flicks as The Rocketeer
and Jurassic Park III
), dismissed by many critics but a welcome treat for anyone drawn to good ol'-fashioned movie excitement. In his first role since playing Aragorn in the Lord of the Rings
trilogy, Viggo Mortensen brings handsome appeal to his low-key portrayal of Frank T. Hopkins, a real-life long-distance horse racer who, as the movie opens, has witnessed the appalling massacre of Native Americans at Wounded Knee in 1890. Drifting into Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show, he agrees to compete, with his trusty mustang, Hidalgo, in "The Ocean of Fire," a treacherous 3,000-mile horse race across the Arabian desert. Toss in a bunch of conspiring competitors, a noble sheik (Omar Sharif), his lovely daughter (Zuleikha Robinson), and enough fast-paced danger to fill 133 minutes, and you've got a rousing, humorous, and lightly spiritual adventure that's a lot of fun to watch. It hardly matters that it's almost pure fiction (the real Hopkins was known by many as "a pathological liar"). More important is the love of movies and moviemaking that Johnston so delightfully conveys. --Jeff Shannon