As everyone who's watched director George Roy Hill's 1969 movie masterpiece knows, Butch Cassidy, along with his partner in crime the Sundance Kid, died in a hail of bullets in Bolivia. This week sees the release of Mateo Gil's film "Blackthorn," in which Cassidy didn't die in a blaze of glory but grew old and grizzled while raising horses in the Andes under the assumed name of James Blackthorn. Sam Shepard plays the aging gunslinger who loses his horse — along with his saddlebags stuffed with life savings that was going to take him back to America — when he's shot at by Eduardo, a Spaniard on the run. Instead of killing him, Butch takes Eduardo under his wing. In turn, Eduardo, who doesn't know Butch's true identity, lures him with the prospect of a fortune pilfered from a rich mine owner.
The movie isn't perfect; there's probably one too many plot twists in the film and the flashback scenes feel leaden and unnecessary, but the film is worth watching for two reasons. Sam Shepard is great as the grizzled gunslinger. He has grown much more interesting to watch as his ruggedly handsome visage has aged. And if there's one role he seems like he was meant to play, it's that of a lonely cowboy filled with regret. The other reason to see "Blackthorn" is the scenery. Bolivia's glorious landscape provides an appropriately stark, spectacular backdrop to the movie. At one point, Butch and Eduardo venture out onto a salt plain that is so relentlessly flat and free of any kind of natural embellishments that it almost tips the scene into visual abstraction. The sequence is stunning.
The currency of the Western has declined over the decades as the American imagination has moved away from the frontier to, most recently, tales of zombies and alien invasion. Make of that what you will. It's good to see that movies like "Blackthorn," along with other Westerns like "True Grit" and "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford," are still getting made.
Watch the trailer for 'Blackthorn':