James Clay// Film Critic
ALL THE PRETTY HORSES
There are plenty of movies with cursed productions that saw a director slowly lose grip of their vision by studio executives meddling with art in favor of more commerce. It’s not a rare occurrence by any stretch, and there have got to be some juicy stories lurking underneath news stories that say the filmmaker left the project over “creative differences.”
One film, in particular, is a black spot on the eye of once-fabled indie studio MIRAMAX, led by somebody who will not be named, was Billy Bob Thornton’s ALL THE PRETTY HORSES. This epic Western is based off Cormac McCarthy’s novel and stars two massive actors –– Matt Damon, who just a couple years removed from GOOD WILL HUNTING and THE TALENTED MR. RIPLEY, and Spanish actress Penelope Cruz, who was emerging stateside.
Long story short: Thornton had some creative cache after his success with SLING BLADE, and MIRAMAX had plans to stifle the $50 million, three-hour love story between a wayward Texas rancher and his forbidden love with a Mexican heiress. The film opened on Christmas day in hopes of an awards season push, but was given the hook and was out of theaters within a few weeks.
The results are, no doubt, hackneyed. But even amid the postproduction shredding of the film, Thornton is tough, and McCarthy’s voice pops up in flourishes. At just under two hours, the film runs like a story on fast forward rushing through scenes, plot points, and emotional moments that are rarely given time to resonate. There’s a certain quality to ALL THE PRETTY HORSES that makes this bare-bones release worth your time. There’s an honesty to Damon’s performance alongside Henry Thomas and Lucas Black as they share a camaraderie for a lifestyle that is slowly dying.
Reportedly, Thornton was crushed by what happened to his passion project, and Damon saw it as a lost opportunity to showcase his acting chops. ALL THE PRETTY HORSES is a movie about breaking wild spirits. It’s just disappointing the results were so tame.
Forgotten movies with major movie stars at the center are fascinating to look at with the perspective of time.
The 2002 thriller TRAPPED – starring Charlize Theron, Kevin Bacon, Stuart Townsend, a baby Dakota Fanning, and inexplicably Courtney Love – is one of those low-brow, high-intensity exercises that go straight to VOD these days. Think mostly anything Bruce Willis and John Travolta star in now.
The Luis Mandoki-directed film (MESSAGE IN A BOTTLE) rises slightly above its narrative to provide a few shrieks and gasps. Still, almost everything in this film is done in poor taste, from the constant threat of sexual assault to the crass way children are put in danger. At the very least, these retro releases allow us to look back to see how far film culture has come.
TRAPPED follows a well to do anesthesiologist Will (Townsend) and his wife Karen (Theron) and their daughter Abby (Fanning), who fall prey to a quarter-of-a-million-dollar kidnapping scheme from Joe and Cheryl Hickey (Bacon and Love, respectively) and their cousin Marvin (Pruitt Taylor Vince). The film is a mostly pointless exercise in torturing this family that’s aimed to be a stand-in for the middle American audiences who may have gone to see this on a date night way back when.
The plan exacted is a preposterous look at how parents would react to kidnapping with one of Theron’s most pedestrian performances to date while Bacon is bringing the same creeper energy he served up in Paul Verhoeven’s HOLLOW MAN. It’s easy to turn your nose up to TRAPPED’s Lifetime movie sensibilities, but that’s not anything the midnight hour and a couple of glasses of wine can’t cure. Stripped of all analysis and expectation, this sleazeball thriller efficiently does its job and provides a few unintentional chuckles along the way.
EDDIE MACON’S RUN
EDDIE MACON’S RUN is a movie made for good ol’ boys. It’s steeped in tobacco spit, hot rods, a dash of machismo, and endless repeats on basic cable. The predictable 1983 redemption tale, directed by Jeff Kanew (REVENGE OF THE NERDS), took TV star John Schneider, who was winding down his role on THE DUKES OF HAZARD, to help him jump to the silver screen by playing cat and mouse with the legend Kirk Douglas.
Eddie Macon (Schneider) keeps getting picked up for petty crimes, namely being a drifter and winds up getting sentenced to five years up the river from a judge eager to deal out a healthy dose of that Southern act right. Eddie has other plans and bolts from Texas on his way to Mexico to meet up with his wife and son and to escape the prison system. But relentless lawman Buster Marzack (Douglas) is hot on his tail and looking to bring the truant prisoner back to the big house.
EDDIE MACON’S RUN plays like an extended episode of the exact template Schneider was trying to get away from on the little screen. The filmmakers telegraph the ending from the second act. Despite the predictability, there’s a winsome charm to its retrospective look at a Texas that doesn’t exist anymore.
Schneider and Douglas are serviceable, with the latter giving one of the most forgettable roles of his career. If it wasn’t for Marzack’s penchant for watching television while doing pushups and smoking a cigar as well as his trusty Labrador retriever, you’d forget he even appeared on-screen.
Kanew, who was more known for comedy (and reteamed with Douglas three years later for TOUGH GUYS), creates a sequence that’s genuinely filled with twisted tension, especially when Macon stumbles upon the land of two backwoods brothers (Jay O. Sanders and Tom Noonan). They are looking to lynch some cattle rustlers.
There’s a reason why movies like this have fallen by the wayside. But as somebody who grew up while this version of Southern comfort was dying, it surely is a sight to behold.
These titles are available now from Mill Creek Entertainment and can be purchased from every major online retailler.