According to legend, bank robbers Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid were killed in a skirmish with the Bolivian military in 1908. But what if they’d survived?
That’s the premise for this story which begins in 1927, as Butch has evolved into a grizzled rancher named James Blackthorn (Sam Shepard). Apparently, years earlier, Butch and Sundance pulled a switch with dead bodies and headed for the border, after which Sundance died in the mountains.
After years of quiet seclusion, breeding horses in South America, Butch decides to return to the United States since his and Sundance’s ex-girlfriend, Etta Place, died in San Francisco, leaving behind a boy who is either his son or nephew. En route home, Butch is ambushed by a Spanish civil engineer, Eduardo Apodaca (Eduardo Noriega), who convinces the outlaw to spare his life by promising to share $50,000 that he has stashed away in a silver mine that’s not far away. Apodaca explains that he stole the money from one of the country’s largest mine owners and is on the run from a Bolivian posse. But that’s not exactly the truth, as Butch later discovers. In the meantime, Butch is recognized by McKinley (Stephen Rea), the determined Pinkerton detective who has been on his trail for almost 20 years.
Laconic Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright/actor Sam Shepard controls every scene as an older, wiser incarnation of iconic outlaw having one last adventure. Glimpses of his backstory with Sundance and Etta are revealed in flashbacks, utilizing younger actors (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Padraic Delaney, Dominique McElligott) in roles created back in 1969 in George Roy Hill’s “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” by Paul Newman, Robert Redford and Katharine Ross.
Unevenly written by Miguel Barros, it’s sparingly directed by Mateo Gil (“The Sea Inside,” “Agora”), evoking memories of Sergio Leone’s mythic series of spaghetti westerns. Only this time, there’s J.A. Ruiz Anchia’s superbly photographed showdown on the salt flats, as exhausted desperados struggle to survive.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Blackthorn” is a speculative 6, reviving the American folk hero.