Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

Why don't running battles in the kasbah slow down? Can you have too many desert sunsets?

Questions, questions...

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Hidalgo is Cliche City's nominee for the Been There award. Viggo Mortensen starts off in Tom Cruise's boots from The Last Samurai, working in Buffalo Bill's Wild West show and drinking too much. The difference is that Mortensen stays in character - half-breed cowboy, with instincts for brains - while Cruise gave a star performance.

Frank T Hopkins (Mortensen) is good with horses. He keeps winning endurance contests on a pint-sized mustang and is the first infidel from the New World to be invited to compete in the 3000 mile Ocean of Fire race across the Arabian desert in the 1890s.

That much is known of him. The rest comes from the imagination of novelist/screenwriter/aficionado of the American West, John Fusco (Spirit: Stallion Of The Cimarron). The homeland footage, depicting soldiers treating the natives as their modern equivilants do today, is perfectly acceptable, if not a little derivative (The Outlaw Josey Wales, at al). Where the film falls on its face is abroad.

Even the appearance of Omar Sharif, as the sheikh with the beautiful daughter (Zuleikha Robinson), might have been taken as an in-joke, if Fusco had a sense of humour, which he doesn't. The other riders in the great race are dark, brooding princes, with sleek black stallions, who are incredulous of Hopkins and his funny coloured nag.

The love interest is neither lovely, nor interesting. The sheikh's beautiful daughter flirts with Hopkins, who is almost castrated on the orders of her outraged father, after they are discovered (fully clothed) together. An upper-class Englishwoman (Louise Lombard), who owns the favourite in the race, is haughty, manipulative and as sexy as snake venom.

The Ocean of Fire is hardly a gallop, rather a walk over sand dunes, astride animals that should have died of dehydration. Hopkins has no idea where he is going, while managing to stay on course. His steed never eats and seldom drinks and yet appears miraculousy fresh for the final sprint.

Compared to this, The Mummy is a masterpiece and Seabiscuit a truthful depiction of real events. The sadness is that Mortensen refuses to give it the movie star treatment, as if he respects the integrity of Hopkins's simple ambition, despite director Joe Johnston's attempt to make Frank Of Arabia, with horses.

Reviewed on: 15 Apr 2004
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A half-breed American cowboy races his mustang across the Arabian desert, circa 1890.
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Director: Joe Johnston

Writer: John Fusco

Starring: Viggo Mortensen, Omar Sharif, Zuleikha Robinson, Said Taghmaoui, Louise Lombard, Silas Carson, Adam Alexi-Malle, JK Simmons, Adoni Maropis, Elizabeth Berridge

Year: 2004

Runtime: 136 minutes

BBFC: 12A - Adult Supervision

Country: US


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