Viggo Mortensen plays the legendary Frank T. Hopkins in this exciting 2004 action-adventure.
Editor's Note: Throughout March and April, we’re celebrating Great Westerns of the 21st century — noteworthy movies and TV series with special appeal to C&I readers that have premiered since 2001. Check the Entertainment tab Monday through Friday to see a different recommendation by C&I senior writer Joe Leydon. And be on the lookout for our upcoming May/June 2020 print edition, which prominently features the legendary star who looms large in two of this century’s very best westerns.
Viggo Mortersen made the leap from Lord of the Rings fantasy to “Oceans of Fire” heroics in Hidalgo, an exciting action-adventure co-starring Omar Sharif and directed by Joe Johnston (The Rocketeer, Captain America: The First Avenger).
Mortensen stars as Frank T. Hopkins, a real-life horseman and alleged hero who claimed to be, among other things, a U.S. Cavalry dispatch rider, a star of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, an endurance rider of legendary accomplishment — and the son of a Cavalry scout who miraculously survived the Little Bighorn massacre. At first glance, the character might seem worlds away from Aragorn, the stoic warrior Mortensen played so memorably in Peter Jackson’s films of J.R.R. Tolkien’s epic novels. But during a 2004 interview with C&I, the actor indicated that differences between the two roles may be more apparent than real.
“To be honest with you,” Mortensen said, “Aragorn reminded me a lot of the western characters I’d seen Gary Cooper play — his way of reacting to certain circumstances and thinking before he acted. Also, Aragorn had a certain code of honor that’s not unfamiliar if you’ve looked at westerns.
“Of course, that’s not just particular to westerns. When you think about it, it’s no accident that someone like Akira Kurosawa, the great Japanese director, would make movies about samurais that were a lot like Westerns and were in fact then remade as Westerns. The Magnificent Seven had a lot to do with Seven Samurai, and A Fistful of Dollars had a lot to do with Yojimbo. I think the Lord of the Rings movies have many of those same qualities.”
Hidalgo introduces Hopkins by noting his celebrated triumphs as an endurance rider — including, most famously, his victory in an 1886 long-distance race from Galveston, Texas, to Rutland, Vermont — and detailing his brief career as a star attraction in Buffalo Bill’s traveling revue. But these adventures serve merely as prologue to Hopkins’ death-defying exploits during the 1891 running of the Oceans of Fire race along the gulf of Syria. At the behest of a sheik (Omar Sharif) with a penchant for high-stakes wagering, Hopkins agrees to test Hidalgo, his favorite Mustang, against more than 100 desert-bred steeds in a 3,000-mile run for fame and fortune. For nearly 10 weeks, the American cowboy and his pinto stallion endure broiling heat and occasional sandstorms, often going for one or two days without water. Near the end, Hopkins seriously wonders whether the finish line will ever be more than a taunting mirage.
“It’s not your usual western,” Mortensen said, “in the sense that most of the action takes place in the Arabian Desert. But like many Westerns — like many stories from many different cultures — it’s a hero’s journey, a classic hero’s story.
“Whether you’re talking about a Viking legend or The Odyssey — or a western — you’ve got a character who has a challenge presented to him. Sometimes it’s an opportunity; sometimes it’s a situation that you can’t get out of. Either way, you’re put in a position where you’ve got to go to unknown places and face unfamiliar people. And the story becomes, in large part, how you react to this challenge as a person.”
Hidalgo is now available for streaming on You Tube, iTunes, Amazon Prime and other platforms.
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