You can't fault Billy Bob Thornton's second directorial piece when it comes to effort. Oozing period atmosphere and boasting a slew of starkly beautiful vistas, All The Pretty Horses works long and hard to communicate a sense of the time, the people and the land they live in. There are laughs and action scattered in among the high drama and romance, all of it well played by its clean-cut young leads (especially Damon). So what if it's all a bit similar to The Hi-Lo Country, or that the music is too intrusive and the whole thing veers too close towards the glossy side to be genuinely affecting? Yet despite all this, All The Pretty Horses should still be a fairly good movie.
That it isn't comes down to one thing - this is clearly a case of a much longer film that has been badly hacked down to its current size. Even if you hadn't heard the story that Thornton's original cut ran to four hours of footage, it would be fairly easy to work out that All The Pretty Horses is a two-gallon movie poured into a gallon jug.
Instead of biting the bullet and snipping out complete sub-plots (admittedly tricky when it comes to the storyline of Cormac McCarthy's original sprawling novel) or consigning actors' entire performances to the cutting room floor, it feels like Thornton has chipped away a couple of minutes here, a few dozen frames there. The plot speeds up and slows down as sequences are pruned (the development of the love affair between Damon and Cruz whizzes by in a blurry montage). Wannabe motifs and stylistic touches appear just once, never to return. Big name actors, such as Bruce Dern, Sam Shepard and Robert Patrick crop up for nothing more than eye-blink appearances and then vanish.
The resulting staccato, fractured film is a disorientating disappointment. It's still occasionally enjoyable, but the remaining whole is frustratingly so far less than the sum of its parts.
Although entertaining and atmospheric in places, some savage editing has turned this pretty horse from a thoroughbred into a bit of a mongrel gee-gee. Let's just hope Billy Bob saddles up and recuts a longer version for the DVD release.