YEAR: 2011

ROLE:  James Blackthorn

DIRECTOR: Mateo Gil

THEATRICAL RELEASE:  October 7, 2011

Plot Summary

James Blackthorn is an old Gringo living quietly in the green tropical valleys of Bolivia. He breeds horses and has a romantic friendship with a native woman. He's getting on in years and wants to die at home, in the United States. His real name is Butch Cassidy, one of the last and most famous outlaws from the far West. But the legend of his life has almost faded into oblivion as everyone believes him long dead.

As he crosses the high plateau on his way home, James encounters another rider, far younger and inexperienced. A Spanish mine engineer by the name of Ernesto Apodaca who is fleeing after having robbed a mine. Remembering his past and in need of money, Blackthorn decides to accompany the young man on his frantic flight across Bolivia. During this time the two men, although very different, will become friends amongst the violence and the loneliness of the Bolivian desert. But Blackthorn is not the only one with a secret... In no man's land and hounded by more and more armed men, both men will have no choice but to reveal their true intentions and face reality, once and for all.  

Film Details
Sam SHEPARD..............James Blackthorn
Eduardo NORIEGA........Ernesto Apodaca
Magaly SOLIER................................Yana
Stephen REA.............................Mackinley

Screenplay...........................Miguel Barros
Cinematography...............J.A. Ruiz Anchía
Length.....................................102 minutes
 

 

 
Production photos
 
DVD release
Blu-ray and DVD on December 20, 2011
 
Production Notes

The nine-week shoot took place in Bolivia from April to June 5, 2010. The film was budgeted at five million euros. It premiered in the US at the Tribeca Film Festival in April 2011.

Interview with Director Mateo Gil:

On working with Sam.
Well, when you are going to work with someone like Sam Shepherd, you can tend to be too scared or shy. I think you have to try and forget all of these things and try and talk to the person. Fortunately, he has a very strong personality. He’s a strong person, very straightforward. He’s always talking about (the condition of the) horses on set, and he didn’t speak very much at all about what he has done, his accomplishments. He’s not presumptuous at all. It was very easy, in this sense. I forgot from the beginning that he was Sam Shepard. Maybe there’s a kind of a difference between Americans and Europeans. It’s always usually present. But Sam and I forgot those differences. It was just a great experience to work with him.

Casting Sam:
We were very lucky. In the beginning, when we were thinking about making the movie, and what possible actors we could cast, we were scared that no one that was going to do this script. But he said yes, very quickly. We needed an actor with a lot of charisma. A lot! And it is, sadly, a scarce thing today. And he has a lot of charisma, to spare, really.

On horses:
Sam was doing all of his own riding ALL of the time. For a couple of very, very far-away shots, some distant second unit shots, we used a stand-in, but he was always on the horse! We were shooting at a very high altitude. You get tired faster because there’s’ not too much oxygen up there! Sam is very strong. And he wanted to ride all the time. It was amazing. He never once complained. When he knew he was going to be riding horses that day, you could feel his smile (on set) from when he woke up in the morning. He just wanted to ride his horse all the time.

Casting Stephen Rea:
We were very lucky to have Sam in the movie, not just because of himself, but also because he’s a very good friend of Stephen Rea’s, and they share the same agent here in the US! So… Sam said yes (to the film) and Stephen said, “Okay! If Sam is going to be in it, I want to do it!” We were just so lucky. These are two of the great, great actors.

 
Sam's comments on filming:

"It’s a Spanish production. Limited money. It was sent to my agent. Best script I’ve seen in 10 years, and it included working with my friend Stephen Rea."

“Bolivia is South America’s poorest country. Seventy percent of the population is Indian. And rife with superstitions. In the mountains an Indian lady appeared suddenly from nowhere flailing her arms, shrieking loudly. I didn’t know what was happening but stopped instantly. They later explained she believes white faces are ghosts who will tear her belly out and eat her intestines."

"The culture is distinct. Packs of dogs behind barbed wire. In one scene I was trying to herd a llama, which is indigenous to the area, and people were screaming. Their belief is the pregnant animal, seeing white people, would abort or deliver a stillborn baby."

"Spanish is not their first language. They speak many dialects, as did our crew. Translators with us told us what was happening.

"Wasn’t easy working at 1,500 feet, where the air is thin and hard to breathe. Our hotel rooms had tanks of air, and on location auxiliary oxygen went around. We shot in places so remote that driving to the location took two hours."

"The area’s spectacular. Too high for insects, but there were gorgeous birds in the Andes, all different colors. Plus alpaca and vicuna, which is an endangered species. They ran around like little pet animals.

"I did my own stunts and horseback riding. I had no trepidation like walking at night or worrying about muggings or robbery. But it was hard going. A handful of days in one location then move across country. Our catering service, from remote little towns, was great. They moved with us. Followed wherever we went. I ate lots of Bolivian food. Like their black potatoes. Llama’s pretty bland. Tastes like lamb steak."

Other production comments:

Comingsoon.net - October 6, 2011
Wall Street Journal - October 7, 2011
Star Tribune - October 8, 2011

 
NYC Premiere - September 29, 2011
 
Publicity Stills

 

 
Performance Reviews

Calvin Wilson, Post Dispatch:
"Gil keeps things interesting, pursuing a vibe that owes as much to the spaghetti Western as it does to the classic American variety. But what really makes the film must watching is Shepard, whose mug should be in the dictionary next to "grizzled." Indeed, the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright is a woefully underrated actor."

Marshall Fine, Hollywood and Fine:
"For a grittily entertaining and thoughtful example of just how good a western can be, look no further than Mateo Gil’s accomplished 'Blackthorn,' an outlaw tale that is at once exciting and elegiac, elegant and earthy. Part of that has to do with Gil’s vision, fleshed out by the ravishing Bolivian locations where he filmed. But a good deal also has to do with the central performance – as good as he’s ever been – by Sam Shepard, one of our greatest playwrights who started out (and probably still remains) a cowboy at heart.... His Cassidy isn’t a brooder, just laconic – but when he delivers an opinion, it comes with a sharp edge. There’s also a sadness and regret that Cassidy works to suppress but which Shepard allows to peek through nonetheless... 'Blackthorn' is a rousing and involving film, featuring what could serve as a terrific valedictory performance for Sam Shepard, if he were ready to quit acting. Hopefully, he won’t; as 'Blackthorn shows', he still has a lot to offer."

Tony Timpone, Fantasia Film Festival:
"Shepard, never better, even sings his own raspy songs on the soundtrack... With his contemplative stare and sparse dialog, playwright Shepard conveys all these subtle emotions beautifully."

Joblo's Movie Emporium:
"Sam Shepard is one of the most genuine actors working in film today. When we first meet him as the fugitive, there is an unsettling fire within him. It is a sort of sadness that is worn and broken but he is not lost, his composed strength is very powerful. The way he carries himself on-screen is perfect for this aging cowboy. He speaks volumes within his silence, and when the words do arrive he is undeniably charismatic in Butch Cassidy’s skin. He carries the film on his capable shoulders and we, the audience, are able to connect and sympathize with his loss and desire to return home. This is a stunning, understated performance that should be remembered."

Ian Buckwalter, NPR.org:
"Even if some of the film's weaknesses were more prominent, though, they'd be mostly forgivable in light of Sam Shepard's powerful performance in the title role.He perfectly blends the mischievousness of the character with the sadness of age and exile. His Cassidy is magnetic and intimidating, and his smoky, reedy voice conveys the dried-out fatigue of someone who has spent too long out under the unforgiving prairie sun."

Betsy Sharkey, Los Angeles Times:
"In the opening scenes of 'Blackthorn,' the old desperado who gives this mostly satisfying western its name is bent over a letter, writing of coming back home to the U.S. Though he's grown gray, he remains split-rail hard, suffers no fools — he's still plenty fiery too, if the girl in his bed is any indication. Naturally, the character is played by Sam Shepard, who wears the dust, the boots, the bravado and the rest as if they were designed for him alone... The film reminds just how arresting an actor Shepard can be. Like Blackthorn, he's only gotten better with age."

Eric Hynes, Time Out New York:
"If Butch were to live into his senior days, he’d absolutely have to be played by Shepard. Wrinkled, leathery and densely carpeted in a salt-and-pepper beard, the 67-year-old playwright and actor still exudes intellectual mischief and hard-stare sex appeal; his self-styled ruggedness is a perfect match for an infamous gringo living incognito. It’s his best screen work since 'The Right Stuff'."

Mark Holcomb, Village Voice:
"Director Mateo Gil finds a good balance between understated drama and the grandiose Bolivian landscape, but Blackthorn’s real draw is Shepard. He plays the aging rogue with a wily mix of restlessness and comic irascibility."

Edward Douglas, Comingsoon.net:
"Sam Shepard's performance is a revelation, one of the veteran actor's finest hours as he plays the title character as a tough man's man with a softer side we get to see in the quieter moments at home with his native girlfriend."

Steven Rea, Philidelphia Inquirer:
"Sam Shepard, quiet, watchful, and wonderfully in the moment - his performance is one to remember...  Watching Shepard work his pony down a snaking mountain pass, playing a mandolin and singing the blues, or seeing him sitting, stone-still, beneath a railroad water tank, waiting for something to happen - these are scenes to be cherished, from an actor who has found the soul of the character he's playing."

Genna Terranova, Indiewire:
"
Mateo Gil makes a solid English-language debut with this sublimely shot and well acted tale set in the remarkable landscapes of Bolivia. Sam Shepard gives a riveting performance as the weathered, mysterious, and unsentimental Blackthorn, gracefully revitalizing the legend of history's favorite outlaw."

Downtown Express:
"Finely crafted by the Spanish team of Mateo Gil (director) and Miguel Barros (screenwriter)...  As impossible as it may seem, the film steers clear of clichés.... the story, which moves as slow and stately as its mature star, still packs plenty of original twists, action and surprises. Fans of Shepard will glean right off the bat why he took the part. The actor/playwright, so long identified with the west, fits his iconic character as though he’d worn it all his life. It’s a career-defining statement. He even sings several folk songs on the soundtrack. Seeming like he’s having the time of his life, Shepard turns in some of the best acting of his career."

Kim Hanson, Bridgeport Examiner:
"Sam Shepard fills the title role with grizzly gravitas, exploring the life of a man who has learned the real costs of survival and loyalty and is about to have those lessons tested, once again... Breathtaking cinematography and an outstanding performance by Sam Shepard make this western memorable."

Paste Magazine:
"The great Sam Shepard invests the role with an understated dignity and gravitas. Perhaps too much so to be historically accurate, but historical accuracy isn’t what Gil is after here. 'Blackthorn' is a character study, and Shepherd is one of the most interesting actors of his generation. His silences are fascinating, and his clipped (and infrequent) speech escapes his lips only reluctantly."

Dustin J Trost, Montgomery News:
"The driving force behind “Blackthorn” is definitely Sam Shepard. He brings to life the lonesome old man who is tired of living in solitude and is ready to come home...  Even with its minor flaws and disappointing ending, 'Blackthorn' delivers a western worthy of the genre. Sam Shepard delivers an award-worthy performance as the legendary Butch Cassidy late in life, and definitely lives up to the reputation."

Mark Olsen, Los Angeles Times:
"Shepard's
performance is equal parts tender and lonesome, fearsome and commanding."

Erica, Abeel, Huffington Post:
"Sam Shepard is a magnificent craggy presence as an aging, vinegar-y coot, still polishing his legend. (And of course he does his own riding.) The premise is ingenious and adroitly handled. The locations are spectacular, especially the endless salt flats of the Bolivian frontier."

Matt Singer, IFC.com:
"The simple but effective 'Blackthorn' casts playwright and actor Sam Shepard in the title role, and if ever a man deserved the nickname "Butch," it's Sam Shepard. Gruff and silvered but still handsome at age 67, he looks every bit the badass cowboy in the autumn of his years. The film puts most of the dramatic load on Shepard's grizzled shoulders; his understated line readings carry most of the film while beautiful frontier cinematography by Juan Ruiz Anchía does the rest. Shepard's worldweary performance and Anchía's stark camerawork elevate the material beyond your standard revisionist Western fare."

Beth Accomando, KPBS.org:
"Shepard, who is also an extremely gifted playwright, is strong enough to make this performance work and to win us over."

Joe Williams, St. Louis Dispatch:
"The great, grizzled Shepard conveys an autumnal, end-of-the-trail weariness as he watches his horizons grow dim."

Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times:
"This story is well-acted by Sam Shepard, who I have never seen unconvincing. There's a dash of Kris Kristofferson in his performance, as when he ambles through the country singing rusty old songs."

The Saratogian:
"Who better to play the laconic, sun-crinkled, been-there-done-that outlaw than Sam Shepard, himself a national icon of weathered taciturnity and cool? Shepard’s Cassidy is a gunslinger for a modern era, wiser, older, rueful, and even meditative - more in the melancholy mold of Eastwood’s 'Unforgiven' than anything from George Roy Hill. And while the Spanish screenwriter and director Mateo Gil honors all the familiar tropes of the Western genre - wild horse chases, hideaways, showdowns, and lots of stunning makes-you-feel-awful-small wide-open vistas, it’s the quiet stuff Shepard does with his character that makes this neo-Western stick to the ribs."

Sara Maria Vizcarrondo, Boxoffice Magazine:
"It's a trenchant modern western and fans of the genre should embrace it for more reasons than just the presence of the epic Sam Shepard who, by the way, owns this Butch Cassidy."

Liz Smith:
"This has to be the role Sam Shepard was born to play. There is a stillness to his performance that is mesmerizing, even in action sequences. Shepard himself says that “This the first time I felt completely calm in front of a camera...  Shepard is Bogie in 'The Big Sleep' or Robert Mitchum in 'Out of the Past' or Dick Powell in 'Murder My Sweet.'"

Bob Fischbach, World Herald:
"One of the chief pleasures of 'Blackthorn,' a movie that supposes Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid did not die in Bolivia in 1906, is seeing Sam Shepard on the big screen... Shepard is a natural as the hardened loner, maybe slowed with age but able to summon up the smarts and the sudden moves we remember Butch had so long ago. In a relatively taciturn role, he does a nice job of conveying Blackthorn's internal makeup."

Melissa Harmon, Movie Buzzers:
"Sam Shepard has a fantastic ability to convey his emotions without speaking. Through his tough exterior, he's able to portray an empathy for people that the character had in real life."

Devin D. O'Leary, Alibi.com:
"Mostly, it’s a character study on the part of Shepard, who does bang-up work as the grizzled gunman, the world-weary warrior, the semi-repentant rebel. Though he allows the story and the characters to spend much time in surly self-reflection, director Mateo Gil isn’t totally interested in dirty realism. Instead, his crisp digital lensing lingers on the spectacular landscape of Bolivia - from the rounded mountaintops to the dead-level salt flats. And when it isn’t luxuriating in the landscape, the camera is studying the craggy, calm face of Shepard. This is a clue that - for all his revisionist “real west” leanings, Gil still hungers to capture the cowboy myth... Barros’ script is simple, but features just enough twists and turns to keep the entertainment moving and the characters evolving. The supporting cast, particularly Stephen Rea as a burned-out Pinkerton man, makes even the small roles memorable. The real star, though, is Shepard. Everyone involved seems to know this and affords the legendary actor enough time and space to give his character the lived-in feel of a well-worn but still-tough cowboy boot."

Colin Covert, Minneapolis Star Tribune:
"Butch Cassidy rides again in 'Blackthorn,' but this time he's grayer, warier, wiser. Sam Shepard steps into the iconic role, and he fills Paul Newman's cowboy boots spectacularly."

Mick LaSalle, San Francisco Chronicle:
"By his early 40s, Shepard already carried an aura of deep, lived-in history, and by now he is like a living monument, who can just sit and say nothing and make you think, wow, this guy has seen things. So what better actor to play a notorious outlaw who has grown into his regrets and yet is still dangerous?"

Ronnie Scheib, Variety:
"Shepard effortlessly incarnates the Western loner on the lam, his every gesture bespeaking distances to travel, dangers to circumvent and respites to savor."

Ty Burr, Boston Globe:
"Playing the aging outlaw Butch Cassidy, Sam Shepard is the nominal star of 'Blackthorn,' and he’s fine - grizzled and laconic in the best western tradition."

Marc Savlov, Austin Chronicle:
"Shepard has aged himself into a grizzled and laconic icon, and his Cassidy/Blackthorn is tough as leather and still handy with a six-shooter, but bone-weary and aching to be done with this decades-long game of hide-and-seek."

Nick Shager, Slant magazine:
"Shepard plays the role as "a crotchety ex-badass with a no-nonsense attitude and a resignation to his potentially dire fate at the hands of a six-shooter... He's a grizzled old loner who periodically indulges in memories of happier times alongside his famous compatriot... 'Guess we can't be blamed for getting older,' muses James Blackthorn (Shepard)."

J.R. Jones, Chicago Reader:
"Shepard is the whole show here, as weathered and elemental as the harsh Bolivian locations."

Kirk Brokaw, Independent magazine:
"James Blackthorn is Butch 20 years later, fully embodied by Sam Shepard in an irascible, full-tilt performance that’s the best work of his career. Shepard is now old enough, grizzled enough, and ornery enough to play Butch writ large, and the character finally has the legs of a legend. Call it intuition, age, or luck, the actor who Shepard may frequently remind you of is Walter Huston in his Oscar-winning role in the 1948 "Treasure of the Sierra Madre"...  Like Huston, Shepard has come to carry a lot of mileage in his face. He’s a hoot on horseback twanging a guitar and talk-singing a couple of original tunes... Like most of the great Western actors, he’s an authentic bent hero, a flawed but honorable cuss, a damn-your-eyes outlaw that just won’t roll over and die. Walter Huston would have liked Shepard’s Butch Cassidy a lot."

Jason Bailey, DVD Talk:
"Shepard's presence in a movie like this is the very definition of "reassuring." He gives the character a weary, grizzled impatience; there's not a false note in the performance, which even includes some inspired warbling."