Yearning for adventure and a better life south of the border Texas cowboys John Grady Cole (Matt Damon) and Lacey Rawlins (Henry Thomas) saddle up and find employment with Mr. Rocha a wealthy Mexican hacienda owner (Ruben Blades). The two Americans quickly draw attention to themselves by breaking in horses and John falls for Rocha's beautiful daughter Alejandra (Penelope Cruz). After several longing gazes and some midnight skinny dipping the lovers' forbidden affair creates serious problems on the ranch. With Alejandra's honor in question and a young companion's (Lucas Black) actions landing them in jail the two Texans find themselves cooking in water hotter than a jalapeno.
Delivering a perfunctory performance Damon's initial promise as an actor has become plain and predictable. Playing himself with a Southern drawl perhaps his extensive cowboy training schedule distracted him from developing an interesting and memorable character. On the flipside Thomas (a long way from his "E.T." days) has matured into a fine actor and fares much better as the level-headed loyal sidekick. As a troublemaking horse thief the charismatic Black ("American Gothic") is the best thing about this film and brings the only humor and unpredictability to this story -- such a shame his part is so small. As Damon's other distraction the doe-eyed Cruz is highly watchable but the lack of chemistry between the two makes you question whether or not this is really a love story or a just an overcooked dusty diatribe.
Reportedly having delivered a four-hour cut Thornton struggled for over a year to trim his epic Western and appease his distributor Miramax. The result clocking in at about two hours feels like the Cliff's Notes version of McCormack's book. For all the beautiful cinematography accurate period detail atmospheric score and zen cowboy philosophy we just don't care about these characters. We barely have time to digest one scene before the next is thrust upon us. After an hour the story becomes a lost cause. Frustratingly there's much evidence on the screen to suggest Thornton's attention to pace storyline character development and subtle interactions was once there. Guess we'll have to wait for the DVD director's cut to find out if this film ever had a chance.