Making the Grades
When John Cole (Matt Damon) discovers his parents' divorce will disinherit him from ever taking ownership of the family's West Texas ranch, he and his buddy Henry (Lacey Rawlins) decide to seek a simpler life south of the border. With images of wide-open Mexican plains filled with galloping horses in their heads, the pair set out on horseback.
Just as they are about to cross the Rio Grande, the pair meet a teenager named Jimmy Blevins (Lucas Black), whose shooting skills and quality of horse are far greater than one would expect from a boy his age. Unfortunately they chose to ignore their first instincts regarding Jimmy during this brief encounter--a decision that will later mark them as accomplices to crime.
Parting company with Jimmy, John and Henry find work at a large Mexican ranch where their ability to break wild horses especially impresses Alejandra (Penelope Cruz), the attractive daughter of the ranch's owner. Ignoring her family's orders to stay clear of the Americans, she and John (who has also been told to leave her alone) begin a passionate secret romance--until the police suddenly show up and arrest the boys. Locked in prison, their dream is transformed into a nightmarish fight for freedom.
Anyone who finds movies like The Man from Snowy River akin to a religious experience will appreciate the grand vistas, slow motion horses, and forbidden romance found in this post World War II period film. However, unlike the noted Australian title, All The Pretty Horses becomes more like Midnight Express with its dark prison sequences that include a stabbing, shootings and other violent consequences as a result of John's fight for justice and vengeance.
With his favorite word referring to a horse's main export, John is a character who never actually does anything wrong, but who lacks the determination to stay far out of trouble's way. Perceptive parents may see this movie as a teaching opportunity, warning about the risks of riding too close to the line. However, the contrived conclusion left me wondering if he, or other teens watching the film, really learned anything from his experience.
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about All the Pretty Horses.
If you watch this movie, note the many things John does that, had he made a different choice, would have protected him from the plight he faced. Consider his illegal crossing of the Mexican border, his activities with Jimmy Blevins, and his relationship with Alejandra.
When Jimmy’s horse is taken from him, John tries to help him get it back. What could they have done differently in order to avoid violence? Did he ever determine if the horse really belonged to Jimmy?
How did John’s answers to his boss’s question about how he came to Mexico affect the trust his boss had in him? How did John’s relationship with his daughter deteriorate that trust further?
How likely is the U.S. courtroom scene at the ending of the movie? In your opinion, had John done anything wrong? Had he already paid for his bad decisions? Do you feel the movie portrayed U.S. and Mexican attitudes and citizens in a fair and accurate way? Under similar circumstances, how would a Mexican crossing into the United States have been treated?