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All the Pretty Horses

It's hard to believe that director Billy Bob Thornton's original cut of All the Pretty Horses was more than four hours long. Because while the final version, at 117 minutes, is a bit choppy and sometimes hard to follow, it's also quite slow in spots and feels more languid than a such a drastically trimmed movie should. If Thornton had cut a few extra minutes' worth of pretty horses galloping across the desert and left in a few more storytelling scenes, this attempt at a Western epic might have had more impact. As it is, the big-screen adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's best-selling novel about Texan horse wranglers John Grady Cole (Matt Damon) and Lacey Rawlins (Henry Thomas of E.T. fame) never quite hooks the viewer — the movie doesn't go deep enough into the moments that define their characters and relationships before it moves on to the next big "event" in their lives. Which, to be fair, are fairly eventful. The friends leave the Lone Star State behind to look for work and adventure in Mexico, only to find themselves saddled with a hotheaded kid named Blevins (Lucas Black) who gets them all in trouble with the law. John and Lacey evade the authorities and find jobs on the ranch of a wealthy Mexican landowner (Rubén Blades) who happens to have a lovely, spirited daughter named Alejandra (Penélope Cruz). John falls for Alejandra despite the warnings of her patrician aunt (Miriam Colon), but no matter what the movie's trailer would have you believe, John and Alejandra's romance is a relatively minor part of the story. All the Pretty Horses is really about John's transformation from a good ol' boy into a complex, confused man who has seen the worst of life and realizes how narrow his escape from hell really was. Damon, to his credit, is a convincing cowboy, and some of his scenes with Thomas are powerful. But Thornton never really lets the viewer get a full picture of John — there's a lot more there beneath the surface, and it's frustrating not to be able to get at it. It's also frustrating that Columbia TriStar's DVD release of Horses doesn't give Thornton a chance to showcase his true vision for the film. What better opportunity to include his full director's cut, or at least a commentary? Instead, the brief list of the disc's extras includes the theatrical trailer, previews for other DVDs, scene selection, a brief set of printed production notes, and filmographies for the film's stars and director. On the plus side, Horses looks and sounds great on DVD. The wide-open spaces of Texas and Mexico are well-served by the crisp anamorphic transfer (2.35:1), and the digitally mastered audio is clear as a bell in Dolby Digital 5.1. Keep-case.
—Betsy Bozdech

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