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The typical horse race consists of smooth dirt tracks surrounded by bright green grass and the race only lasts a few hours. The Ocean of Fire race is an entirely different race. Taking place in the desert beneath the scorching sun, the riders and horses struggle not only to finish this race, but to survive as well. Move over Seabiscuit, this isn’t the Kentucky Derby.
‘Hidalgo’ is based on the true story of Frank T. Hopkins (Viggo Mortensen), who was a renowned long-distance horse rider and cowboy. Frank is approached and asked to enter the Ocean of Fire by Sheikh Riyadh (Omar Sharif). The Ocean of Fire is a 3,000-mile survival race across the Arabian Desert in which only the premium Arabian horses and noble families are allowed to compete.
Taking place in 1890, Frank’s participation in the race marks the first American rider ever to compete. Upon arriving to the race, Frank is branded as an outcast with his cowboy attire and mustang horse Hidalgo. In addition, Frank is constantly forced to prove that he is worthy enough to compete as well as protect his life from those who wish to see him dead. The movie’s plot of a man struggling to conquer the odds and win redemption are enhanced by the obstacles and troubles that are intertwined throughout the race. First, Frank is accused of having a relationship with Sheikh’s daughter, Jazira (Zuleikha Robinson), after which Frank is sentenced to castration as a form of punishment.
Then, Jazira is kidnapped and Frank is forced to redeem himself by rescuing Jazira and bringing her back to Sheikh. Frank is confronted with his biggest hurdle when Hidalgo becomes badly injured and almost dies. In the end, Frank proves that he doesn’t need a premium Arabian horse to win the race but rather a faithful and strong-willed mustang who will stand by his side.
While ‘Hidalgo’ is not hard core action, it does include an appropriate amount of action that will satisfy your taste. In the fight scenes, the blood and gore is limited, making it endurable for those with sensitive stomachs to watch. There are a few intense scenes that will cause the audience to cringe, such as the massacre of the American Indians at the beginning of the movie. Guys will be happy to hear that while most action films consist of cheesy love triangles which only make the movie bearable to watch for the girls, ‘Hidalgo’ strays away from that trap in order to maintain the focal point of the movie. In addition, the 136-minute movie moves along steadily from action scene to action scene, avoiding dull moments that would cause you to zone out.
Overall, ‘Hidalgo’ is light-hearted in that its numerous comic scenes lighten the drama and intensity of the movie. The comedic behavior is exhibited through Frank’s sarcastic yet reserved personality in addition to the performances by his humorous sidekicks. In addition it extracts a feel-good attitude that will leave you satisfied at the end.
After starring in over 30 movies, most recently as Aragorn in the ‘Lord of the Rings’ trilogy, Mortensen finally gains the highly overdue and well-deserved role as the lead character. Mortensen has the ability to transform himself into the role, making it impossible to typecast him as a single persona. He expresses Frank’s turmoil through his facial expressions and intense eyes. His character transformation from a washed-up cowboy to a selfless hero causes the audience to become entranced with Frank along with gaining sympathy and support for him. Maybe after ‘Hidalgo,’ Mortensen will be offered the lead roles that he should have been given all along instead of upstaging his fellow co-stars as a supporting actor.
Having prior experience with ‘Jumanji’ and ‘Jurassic Park III,’ director Joe Johnston includes a mixture of astonishing special effects combined with depicting the character’s struggles that add to the intensity of the film. The scene where Frank and Hildago are attacked by a swarm of locusts comes off as realistic and overwhelming as the enormous sandstorm that comes close to wiping out Frank and Hildago. The gorgeous landscape of the desert will cause you to be absorbed in its majestic and exquisite scenery.
‘Hidalgo’ carefully displays the different cultures of Arabians, Indians and Americans, among others, through their native language, clothing and culture. In addition, the audience experiences both Frank’s ambition and anxiety towards the race, as well as the race’s significance and to the Arabians.
‘Hidalgo’ is currently in theaters.

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