Set in 1890, Hidalgo is the story of Frank T Hopkins and his Mustang horse, “Hidalgo”. After building a reputation as the winner of many long-distance cross country endurance races, Hopkins is working for Pony Express when he witnesses the aftermath of a bungled attempt to disarm an encampment of Native Indians. Being part-Indian himself and having spoken to some of those killed minutes earlier, Fank promptly slides into a whisky bottle and both he and Hidalgo find themselves working as part of Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show. Travelling from town to town, Hopkins and Hidalgo perform their re-enactments as part of the show until an Arabian Sheik brings news of a challenge. Given the opportunity to take part in the “Ocean of Fire”, a 3,000 mile race across the Arabian desert (against the fastest horses; sandstorms, plagues of locusts and the unforgiving heat), Hopkins chooses to take part in the hope of winning the prize, a mighty $100,000 purse.
Firstly the star of this movie is not Viggo Mortensen, it is “TJ” (Hidalgo), with that out of the way what of the film itself?
Despite the cover blurb this is not “Indiana Jones and the lost horse race” nor is it the Mummy. This is not to say it doesn't have its fair dose of adventure and excitement. Mortensen (in his first role following “The Lord Of The Rings” trilogy) is convincing as Hopkins, portraying him as a man standing between two worlds; those of the white man and the Native American (although this does feel a little overdone at times in the movie with some scenes featuring heavy-handed symbolism) with his only real bond being to his “little-brother”, the never tamed or broken mustang Hidalgo with whom he shares a unique understanding. It must be said that Mortensens ability with horses is very good. Although we are not treated to any outtakes or filming moments, it seems as though he really has an affinity with his equine co-star which goes a long way to drawing the audience into the piece. Other, two legged co-stars include the always watchable Omar Sharif , this time playing the troubled Shikh Riyadh, Zuleikha Robinson as Jazira the Sheikhs daughter, Louise Lombard as Lady Anne Davenport (enjoying her wicked side in an underused role) as well as a brief cameo appearance from Malcolm McDowell as Major Davenport and some top notch support acting.
Unfortunately though, unlike Hopkins and Hidalgo, the movie does tend to get slightly lost. Part action adventure, part historical drama, part unrequited love story it lacks focus. The main story is told well enough and has enough action to keep the proceedings trotting along nicely, but at several points in the film we are introduced to sub-plots that just don't seem to go anywhere. The movie does however look beautiful. Filmed in the US and on location in Morocco, the cinematography is epic. Ranging (no pun intended) from a convincing slice of the “frontier” in 1890s' America to the blistered, arid sands and breathtaking sunsets of Arabia during the race itself. It's fair to say that the movie also has its emotional moments, although rated as a PG-13 I would be wary of allowing small children (or emotional adults) to watch unless you are prepared to tell them the outcome of the race first.