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Hidalgo will not gallop too far

Arthur J Pais | March 08, 2004 16:20 IST

A still from HidalgoIf you are prepared to ignore racial clichÚs andácomplain thatáfilm's claim to be based on a real-life adventure is not true, Hidalgo offers fair amount of entertainment, landscape more majestic and terrifying than in Lawrence Of Arabia and thrilling horse race scenes across the Arabian desert.

After a very long time, Omar Sharif, who became an international star with Lawrence Of Arabia over three decades ago and quickly lost his popularity, is seen in a big budget film. Though he has a commanding presence in the film, he is far more effective in the small budget Monsieur Ibrahim, which is running in arthouse theatres in America, than in this film.

The film is reportedly a fictionalised account of an American (Frank Hopkins) and his mustang (Hidalgo) that entered a grilling 3,000-mile survival race across Arabia in the 1890s. The race featuredátop Bedouins astride the best Arabian stallions.

If one were to take the film as pure fiction, there is room for plenty of complaints. The script offers too many distractions. It takes nearly 45 minutes to warm up, and when the thrilling action starts, Hopkins gets involved in a grand exercise to save an Arab woman in distress. The Arab characters are mostly one-dimensional: treacherous and terribly small-minded. The movie comes nowhere near the soulful and gripping Seabiscuit that also dealt with an underdog of a horse that triumphed against many odds. But visually it offers plenty of arresting thrills.

A still from HidalgoThe film is also not helped by its The Last Samurai kind opening in which Hopkins (Viggo Mortensen) is seen drinking himself senseless, haunted by the memories of the massacre of native Americans at Wounded Knee, and his own contribution to it. He makes a living with his circus acts involving his only real asset: Hidalgo.

When Aziz (Adam Alexi-Mille), a leader of Bedouin horse breeders, sees one of Hopkins' shows and challenges his claim that his mustang is the world's greatest long-distance racer.

He challenges Hopkins to enter the race across the Arabian sands and prove his claims. Lured by fame and big bucks, Hopkins agrees but with a certain amount of reluctance.

Soon after his arrival in Arabia, he realises that he has to fear the men thereámore thanásandstorms and other natural calamities. But he is not giving up, hoping that the race could be his very salvation.

A still from HidalgoThe film is slowed down considerably by the subplots involving Hopkins' entanglement with a Sheikh's daughterá (Zuleikha Robinson), that brings him in confrontation with the Sheikh (Omar Sharif) and a young Arab suitor.

Visually, it is a stunning film that was shot in Morocco and in the American deserts. Director Joe Johnston, his camera unit and the editor do a splendid job in capturing the exploits of Hidalgo. (Five identical looking horses were used in the movie, as per the press notes.)

Mortensen is reasonably fine as Frank Hopkins who, it is later revealed, is half American Indian, bringing out the reluctant hero elements effectively. Sharif has certainly quite a presence but the role lets him down.

Cast: Viggo Mortensen, Zuleikha Robinson, Omar Sharif, Anne Davenport: Louise Lombard, Adam Alexi-Malle
Directed by: Joe Johnston
Written by:áJohn Fusco
Running time: 2 hours 20 minutes
Rating: PG-13
Distributor: Touchstone Pictures

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