Red Rum won the Grand National three times but could he have managed a 3000 mile race through the Middle East? Such a trek sounds far-fetched but exciting. Hidalgo and his rider Frank T Hopkins faced death when they entered the ancient Arab challenge.
The guilt over the mass murder of an Indian tribe causes cowboy and U.S Cavalry dispatcher Frank T Hopkins (Viggo Mortensen) and his horse Hidalgo to work at a circus. Hopkins has a claim to fame – his horse Hidalgo is claimed to be the world’s greatest endurance horse.
Such an assertion upsets the Arab owners of Al-Hattel, a horse they consider to be the world’s greatest. They ask the circus owner to rebuke the claim, which is denied. A mighty challenge is placed for Hilago, with the winner of the 1000-year old race known as The Ocean Of Fire taking the prestigious title. Hopkins agrees and the film follows his battle through a sand storm, a locust attack and struggles with bitter enemies.
Agreeing to play the lead role in an epic after playing an integral part in possibly the greatest fantasy epics ever made is a tough task. The question now is whether Viggo Mortensen will go down the Mark Hamill cul-de-sac – a dead end where there is no return – or whether he will gain the success of Harrison Ford and play lead roles well into his Sixties. It is an interesting hypothesis but sadly Hidalgo offers very little credibility for him.
Mortensen shows contrasting sides to Hopkins, which is tedious, as we never really get to know the forgotten rider. At times Hopkins is the typical drunken cowboy, and then he is introverted and intelligent or foolish and immature. That’s only one problem that disturbs the nucleus of the film.
Too many sub-plots and characters are introduced to little avail. A love story between Hopkins and an Arab woman is toyed with but never used. The connection Hopkins has with the Red Indian tribe is rather touching but again it is under-utilised. There are lots of peripheral characters that come to the forefront but soon dwindle into the background. The Arab characters are the Hollywood stereotypes – Western-haters and power-obsessed businessmen – which is rather offensive.
Joe Johnston, having previously directed Jumanji and Jurassic Part III, employs his technical skills as a director to notable affect. There are many long drawn-out shots of sprawling landscapes in the American countryside and the huge sand dunes of Saudi Arabia and the grand score adds an effective edge to the inspiring scenery.
The second half of the film is good fun, but it’s an endurance test to sit through the ramblings of the first hour and a half. The main points of criticism originate from a feeble script. All the ingredients are there for a solid piece of Indiana Jones-style adventure – comedy, romance, foreign landscapes and likeable rouge as the protagonist. Unfortunately, Hidalgo is an average and entirely forgettable piece entertainment.