The classic Western film, when done well, can be a thing of beauty, like a prized horse within the midst of all the tumbleweeds and empty shotgun shells. There have been several movies that have told the tale of the legendary Butch Cassidy along with his partner, the Sundance Kid, and I'm sure there will be more of these stories along with the occasional re-imagining of ones we have already seen. Blackthorn is the telling of what may have happened if the rumors are to be believed that Butch and Sundance were not killed by Bolivian soldiers in 1908.
What takes place here is the story of a man tired of running from the life he has tried to leave behind and has made preparations to return home to be with the son he has never met. His return journey is detoured by a young man, after a seemingly inadvertent altercation, who claims that he has a stash of money hidden where only he can find it. Money that was supposedly stolen from a criminal that didn't deserve to have it in the first place.
This leads Butch, who has been going by the name of James Blackthorn, to getting caught up in entanglements with the law, the military, and even a man who had been hunting him and his old partners for years back when they first fled the states. The story has several twists and turns and you also see flashbacks that show just what happened to Butch and his partners after their alleged deaths.
Sam Sheppard has been in many movies over the years (The Right Stuff, Black Hawk Down, Thunderheart), but this may be the first to really showcase his talents as a lead actor and he really brings this one home. You can almost feel the many long years weighing his character down at the same time that you see how determined he is to get back home and see his son before riding off in to the sunset. Eduardo Noriega and Stephen Rea play the other two main characters in the movie and I was impressed with their performances as well.
If you are a fan of Westerns, this story will have you reminiscing about the days of Eastwood and Wayne while also reminding you of more recent fare like Appaloosa and the remake of True Grit. You will not find big, blockbuster style action sequences with unlimited amounts of bullets flying everywhere, but you will experience a few truly intense moments involving gun play that keep to the hardened style of the film. Blackthorn is what character driven story telling is all about and easily finds a place among the better movies of this genre.