After being shipwrecked with a magnificent horse off the coast of Africa in the 1940s, a boy bonds with the stallion, and trains him to race after their rescue.After being shipwrecked with a magnificent horse off the coast of Africa in the 1940s, a boy bonds with the stallion, and trains him to race after their rescue.After being shipwrecked with a magnificent horse off the coast of Africa in the 1940s, a boy bonds with the stallion, and trains him to race after their rescue.
Then there is the mind-boggling riding stunts, if they are stunts that leaves one staring in wonder at what the young actor is doing right before our eyes. As far as I could tell, and it was the consensus of everyone who saw this film with me, there were no trick shots and no stunt doubles. The camera is too close and it is obvious that what we are seeing is real. Without giving much more than that away (because these sequences really need to unfold before you with no foreknowledge), it is enough to say that the first half of the film could stand alone as a complete work. Coupled with Carmine Coppola's exquisite score that matches every subtle turn of feeling with every scene, the picture is a joy to behold. A sequence with choreographed movement underwater is nothing short of an incredible ballet. How this film did not wind up on every one of those silly "top 100 films of all time" lists, I cannot fathom. How it did not win a multitude of Academy Awards is a mystery. Caleb Deschanel's cinematography is simply breathtaking.
The second half is no less a pleasure, but as the studios are wont to dictate, a story in the age of MTV and LETHAL WEAPON 16 cannot remain subtle and esoteric -- it can't be simply about the powerful bond between friends, boy and horse, man and boy....trust between creatures beyond words and definitions. So there is conflict, action and a race; the tension that makes for exciting storytelling, yet the rich emotional texture that is achieved even without these more mundane fixtures still dominate the work. And I must add, those more spiritual qualities surprisingly are not diminished by the action sequences but remain the dominant elements of the film's power-of-the-whole. And where there is dialogue, much to director Ballard's credit, it is kept sparse, it's not strained but is quite believable. Even Mikey Rooney, who could have been any director's worst nightmare, turns out a touching performance.
This is a film that marries every element perfectly -- from the music to the photography to the precision editing to an improbable performance from such a young actor. The loudest kudos must go to the young Kelly Reno who turns out a performance that rivets you from the first scene to the last with its power and simplicity.
This is not just a good film -- this is a masterpiece; it's what cinema is all about. And of course the only way to see it is in a theatre on a large theatre screen, NOT on a 19in TV set. Even DVD is more like a xerox copy compared to the definition that a 35mm print provides. If there is an art cinema near you, go to the director and plead with him/her to book this gem. Bring your kids or your nieces and nephews -- the younger generation needs to see what real film-making is all about. And powerful statements about trust and friendship and personal strength wouldn't hurt them either.
- Dec 27, 2000