Using the vast and limitless power of the internet, I have determined that Hidalgo, which claims that it is based on a true story, is not in fact all that close to reality. Its hero, Frank Hopkins (portrayed here by Viggo Mortensen), probably never did embark on a journey that took him into the Arabian desert. It’s been claimed that a race like the one here just might be impossible, although nobody really has a reason to attempt it, I guess.
The film begins with the end of a horse race in America. Hopkins catches up to the leader, greets him politely, and then overtakes him. We see him as polite, although in the bar later, he punches out the sore loser who confronts him. Okay, he can take care of himself too — great. He’s then taken to a place where the local Native American tribe gets gunned down. This event changes his life dramatically; he began to drink heavily and became quite a mess.
He’s working as what essentially amounts to a rodeo clown when a man named Aziz (Adam Alexi-Malle) comes to him with a proposal: There’s a race called the “Ocean of Fire”, which is typically restricted to Arabian horses. But since Hopkins has been advertised as the world’s greatest distance horse rider, and his horse the best around, this proposal comes to him. He accepts, presumably because he has nothing better to do, and soon flies to the Najd desert.
There are a few people who he meets once there. There’s a woman (Louise Lombard) who wants to assure breeding rights by having her sponsored competitor win the race. Sheik Riyadh (Omar Sharif) has a daughter (Zuleikha Robinson) who will be married to a Prince (Saïd Taghmaoui) if he wins the race. The Prince becomes Hopkins’ prime competitor, although there are over 100 other people in the race, most of which don’t get specific scenes or mentions. 39 of them are eliminated after the first day anyway.
These competitors aren’t friendly, which seems surprising to Hopkins considering he is polite to everyone he comes into contact with. He uses words like “sir” or “ma’am”, which aren’t used by anyone else in the film. They just want to win, and will stop at nothing to achieve victory. This includes killing other competitors or drying up the watering holes. Hopkins claims not to be a gambling man, but he’s risking his life with this race.
This is an old-fashioned adventure film with a serious main character and a simple plot. There’s a race, everyone wants to win it — that’s as deep as we get. There is a romantic subplot — the girl gets captured at one point and the hero has to rescue her despite still being in the race — and the actual race it basically a way to frame all of the crazy events that happen within it. There aren’t more than five minutes at a time when a character will just get to race, and that’s almost a shame given how beautiful this desert is to look at.
There is actually quite a bit of action, which surprised me considering that this is just a race. But there are also raids, shootouts, fist fights and even a possible castration. There are only few dull moments, and if what you want in a film like this is to see Viggo Mortensen fight against a ton of unnamed enemies for a couple of hours, then you will not be disappointed.
You might get bored at times, and to me, this seemed like the editor didn’t do his job properly. There are a few scenes that have absolutely no point to them except to extend the runtime. This is a film that goes on for 136 minutes, but cutting it down to 2 hours exactly would have been easily possible. It would have helped with the pacing as well, and as is makes Hidalgo feel bloated and overlong.
But when you get past these scenes, you get a fun, action-packed adventure film with a solid lead character and some entertaining situations. That’s about all I desire from something like this, and since the majority of Hidalgo is quite enjoyable, I can’t say that I had a bad time with it, even if the pointless moments did somewhat weigh it down.
Viggo Mortensen is a good actor who needs to be in more movies. Here, he gives a great performance of a man who has noble intentions with every action he performs. By the end, you desperately want him to reach his goal of finishing the race first, although you might care more for his horse. His horse, Hidalgo, is put through the ringer throughout this film, and after its nose bleeds, its hoof cracks and its skin punctured, you want the duo to finish just so that the poor horse can get some rest. You get emotional in the third act because you’ve seen everything they both have to go to in order to get to this point, and it actually becomes quite a touching film.
Hidalgo needed a better editor. Had one been hired, it would have been an excellent film that I’d recommend to everyone. As it is, it’s a pretty good adventure film that goes on for too long thanks to its many pointless moments. But it still has a great deal of adventure and action scenes that will keep you entertained, as well as a few heartfelt moments that will make you emotional. It’s still worth your time, though, even if there might be a few times where you’ll question why certain scenes were included.