Written by: John Fusso
Starring: Viggo Mortensen, Omar Sharif, Saïd Taghmaoui, Zuleikha Robinson, Louise Lombard
Who does not love a good ol’ classic underdog story? A tale where protagonists seemingly have no chance to overcome the odds before them and still manage to complete it. Rousing and fun, which highlights the experience of watching Hidalgo. It takes a tale of racing across the desert and adds some genuine excitement to it with its set pieces.
Just going through life as a passenger, Frank Hopkins (Viggo Mortensen) gets approached about a challenge on the claim of his horse, Hidalgo, being the world’s greatest endurance horse. He and his horse get invited to compete in a grand 3,000-mile race across the Najd desert where the winner can have the claim outright. With a large purse of cash as a prize, Frank accepts.
The power The Lord of the Rings had over me knew no bounds to the point where it had me seek out Hidalgo to watch more films starring Viggo Mortensen. Portraying my favorite character in all of fiction, Aragorn, seeing him star in another feature became the ultimate draw for a young Josh, and revisiting this movie as an adult shows this story has plenty to enjoy as it attempts to tackle several aspects of Frank’s identity as well as the supposed hierarchy of horses and their performance.
It does make me laugh hearing individuals on the other side of the world having issues with Hidalgo claimed as the world’s greatest endurance horse with it never competing on a world stage. Falls right in line with Major League Baseball calling their ultimate champions the winners of the World Series as if their league constitutes the rest of the world. In this instance, Frank gets the opportunity to prove it once and for all as well as getting paid handsomely for it. However, this also coincides with the issues occurring in the indigenous population around him, a group where he has a blood relation and how it relates to the horses.
Having seen the aftermath of the horrid incident at Wounded Knee, Frank has had this on his conscience for so long because of his mother being part of the Sioux tribe. He sees their struggles all these years later in caring for their horses and not getting the support they need. He takes this with him when competing in the large race across the Atlantic, but the origins of his horse and himself comes under attack and contribute to what makes this race so important. Sheikh Riyadh (Omar Sharif) and others across the sea find it laughable that a mustang, known for being untrainable, could possibly be better than any thoroughbred, which is just plain mean to the horse. Frank hopes to prove them all wrong while also representing himself and the mixed-blood he carries.
The race itself carries plenty of intrigue because of the dangers involved and the film does well to capture it all. From a massive sandstorm nearly engulfing all of the riders and the perilous schemes by the competitors, there’s plenty on the line here for all parties involved. None are willing to take a loss in this competition and it shows. The film also succeeds in making these elements palpable as it displays the immense heat involved and how these poor horses do not deserve these conditions they are forced to compete in. On the other hand, it shows the level of perseverance necessary to cross a desert in a 3,000-mile race. That’s pretty much the distance between where I currently reside, Baltimore, Maryland all the way to Seattle, Washington, and then some. I personally could not fathom traveling there by car, nonetheless riding a horse in horribly arid weather and minimal resources around.
While the way the film handles its indigenous connections as well as how it represents people from the Middle East seems a bit off, I will leave those assertions to those qualified to speak on. For me, Hidalgo comes together as a swashbuckling adventure between a man and his horse with chips on their shoulders. The peril feels incredibly real in what they must do in order to survive and it shows that no matter who gathers around, no one can trust the imperial British. A good lesson and commonality many groups can converge and agree on. Viggo puts in a strong performance unsurprisingly and helps turn this film into something worth watching.