*** (out of 5)
March 6, 2004
Viggo Mortensen as FRANK HOPKINS
Omar Sharif as SHEIKH RIYADH
Zuleikha Robinson as JAZIRA
Louise Lombard as LADY ANNE DAVENPORT
Adam Alexi-Malle as AZIZ
Said Taghmaoui as PRINCE BIN AL REEH
Directed by: Joe Johnston
BY KEVIN CARR
“Hidalgo” tells the story of champion long rider Frank T. Hopkins and his faithful mustang in one of their most famous races. After winning just about every long race in North America, Hopkins is challenged by Sheikh Riyadh (Omar Sharif) to compete in a 3000-mile race across the Arabian desert. Hopkins must face not just the challenges of the race – which include sandstorms, quicksand and locust swarms – but the deathly competitive nature of his opponents who will do anything to stop an impure mustang from finishing a race before the finest breeds in the Middle East.
In the equestrian world, this movie has stirred up a bit of trouble with accusations that Frank Hopkins was a charlatan who made up most – if not all – of his adventures. While you would expect any movie – even one “based on a true story” – to take some liberties, it goes a little far with the story of “Hidalgo.”
According to the Long Riders Guild, an equestrian organization whose members have each completed at least 1000 continuous miles of long races, Frank Hopkins made up his adventures in the 1930s to sell magazines. Many aspects of Hopkins’ life – including his claims that he was born in Texas, that his mother was Native American and that he was featured in Buffalo Bill Cody’s show -have little or no evidence of support.
Even more, there is no record of Hopkins’ participation in the race across the Arabian desert, an admission by Frank Hopkins’ own memorial site at www.frankhopkins.com. Even the existence of the famed mustang Hidalgo is in question. For detailed debunking of the Frank Hopkins myth, visit www.thelongridersguild.com.
Of course, Disney could have saved itself a lot of criticism by just leaving the “Based on a True Story” off the film. Unfortunately, Hollywood’s preoccupation with basing things on true stories got the better of them.
But for the moment, let’s put the truth aside and take the movie at its entertainment value. After all, for better or for worse, the average American moviegoer doesn’t really care about accuracy as long as you tell a good story. For example, there’s evidence to suggest that the story of Pocahontas throwing herself atop John Smith in order to save him from execution may have been a figment of Smith’s imagination to help make his story more dramatic. (Disney made a movie about that, too, didn’t they?)
“Hidalgo” is a slow starter, especially if you’ve seen the trailers and know the story already. Frank and Hidalgo spend a little too long moping around the American west, first as message carriers from the Army, then as the “star” attraction for Buffalo Bill Cody’s wild west show.
Once the race starts, though, the movie has plenty of action. Viggo Mortenson’s portrayal of Frank Hopkins is unrealistically noble, but we’ve already determined that historical accuracy isn’t sacred here. The filmmakers did a decent job avoiding getting bogged down in the race by weaving in several subplots that take Frank and Hidalgo into action even on his day off.
One thing that did really bother me about the historical presentation of this film was its blatant politically correctness, especially in the account of the massacre at Wounded Knee. While this incident was a true atrocity to the Native American people, the film paints the U.S. Army in the worst possible – and most inaccurate – light.
Wounded Knee was the Native American’s version of the Boston Massacre in that it was a misunderstanding that escalated into violence, and the disadvantaged side was wiped out. However, the film shows the U.S. soldiers marching into the camp, ready to kill. At the end of the massacre, a soldier cold-bloodedly shoots a mortally wounded warrior in the back of the head. This unrelenting, premeditated violence simply did not happen. Hollywood is clearly trying to assuage its guilt from years of negative stereotypes. However, the solution should be to show the truth rather than simply malign the other side.
“Hidalgo” can be inspiring and exciting, although the weak attempt at a love story between Frank and the sheikh’s daughter (Zuleikha Robinson) is a little far-fetched. If you take it as historical fact, it’s got a world of problems. But if you’re just in the mood to be entertained, “Hidalgo” can be a decent piece of Saturday afternoon escapism. Ignore the “Based on a True Story” label and enjoy it like you would “The Black Stallion” or “The Man From Snowy River.”