Part Western, part nostalgic adventure, part exile’s lamentation and part unintentional commercial for Bolivian tourism, “Blackthorn” plays on the unsubstantiated theory that famed outlaw Butch Cassidy survived the shootout with Bolivian soldiers and lived to old age in a village in the South American country.
While the film doesn’t have major firepower, it is a quietly enjoyable riff on a celebrity desperado made compelling by an electric central performance.
Directed by Mateo Gil, best known as the screenwriter of Spanish films such as “The Sea Inside,” and scripted by Miguel Barros, the Bolivia-set drama stars Sam Shepard as a horse-ranching Butch Cassidy, who calls himself James Blackthorn and is aging well.
Twenty years after his reported demise, the legendary robber is a thickly bearded old-timer with a keen mind, an impish streak and, in these days when they don’t make bandits like they used to, a solid moral code.
As the drama opens, Blackthorn is engaged in a casual relationship with his housekeeper, Yana (Magaly Solier), and yearning to return to the States to meet the young man who may be his son.
The story follows his homeward journey, which snags when Blackthorn encounters a criminal named Eduardo (Eduardo Noriega) and helps him complete a mine robbery. The adventure exhilarates Blackthorn, reminding him of his days with the Sundance Kid. But he finds himself pursued by both an army and his drunken but dogged Pinkerton nemesis (Stephen Rea).
While the Sundance memories, depicted in flashback (Nicolaj Coster-Waldau and Padraic Delaney play young Butch and Sundance), are inspired by George Roy Hill’s “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” “Blackthorn” is little like that buoyant Western. On the downside, Gil doesn’t display Hill’s dramatic verve, nor does he present Blackthorn’s inner journey with the potency or depth it merits.
Yet Gil demonstrates a gift for tone, a feel for the Western and a talent for casting; it all adds up to an effective blend of entertainment and wistfulness unfolding in breathtaking vistas with Shepard’s Blackthorn providing a charge of humanity.
Butch Cassidy will always be, for most viewers, not the notorious mug in history annals but Paul Newman from the earlier film, and Shepard proves ideal to play him in dynamic-geezer mode.
Whether psyched by his brief return to thievery or ruing over the state of banditry, his Blackthorn/Cassidy magnetically combines quiet charisma and deeper character.
The Bolivian scenery, also a highlight, includes breathtaking salt flats whose otherworldly look befits Butch Cassidy’s mythic element.
Starring Sam Shepard, Eduardo Noriega, Stephen Rea, Magaly Solier
Written by Miguel Barros
Directed by Mateo Gil
Running time 1 hour 38 minutes