Butch: dead or alive?
Director Mateo Gil ponders Butch Cassidy’s retirement in this elegiac western, writes Tara Brady
15A cert, Light House Cinema, Dublin, 100 min TWENTY YEARS have passed since 1908 when Butch Cassidy (Sam Shepard) changed his name to James Blackthorn and took up quiet residency in the Bolivian hills. When he learns that Etta Place, his old Hole in the Wall gang girlfriend, has died, he decides it’s time to make the long trek home.
Waving goodbye to his lover Yana (Magaly Solier), he sets out for Potosí to sell his horses. Inevitably, there’s a complication. Eduardo Apodaca (Eduardo Noriega), a Spanish mining engineer, shoots at Blackthorn, then begs for his protection and mercy. In return Apodaca will share part of the $50,000 he stole from Simón Patiño, an industrialist and mine owner.
Can he be trusted? And can the pair evade a posse that includes Blackthorn’s old Pinkerton agency nemesis, Det Mackinley (Stephen Rea)? Legend tells us that Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid died in a Bolivian shoot-out in 1908. But DNA records beg to differ. What if, as family and friends have maintained, Butch lived south of the border well into his bus-pass years? What if George Roy Hill’s bromance was wrong? What if no one shouted “¡ Fuego!” over a frozen frame?
Mateo Gil, the canny screenwriter behind Open Your Eyes, The Sea Inside and Agora, ponders Cassidy’s retirement in this elegiac western. Deftly cutting between the misadventures of the younger gang (Padraic Delaney, Nikolaj Coster-waldau and Dominique Mcelligott) and the grizzled, autumnal Blackthorn, Gil’s story simultaneously debunks, deconstructs and prints the legend.
There’s a lot of Sergio Leone in Juan Ruiz Anchía’s otherworldly cinematography and in Shepard’s Duck, you Sucker stare. The salt flats and high altitudes make for a visibly horrendous frontier and the fate of our heroes’ unfortunate animal companions gives a whole new dimension to the term “horse opera”.
Older thespians Shepard and Rea steal the show but the younger cast leave a lasting impression. Irish actor Delaney is super and fellow national Mcelligott, lately of RTÉ’S Raw and On Home Ground, gives Hole in the Wall gal Etta Place some greatly needed chutzpah. She’s almost enough of a badass to make us forget about Katharine Ross’s weedy portrait. Bike rides and Bacharach? As if.
There will be blood: Eduardo Apodaca, a Spanish mining engineer played by Eduardo Noriega