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Our culture revolves around our sacred horses.Hidalgo tells the story of Frank Hopkins (Viggo Mortensen), an American cowboy who was reduced to touring in Buffalo Bill Cody's Wild Wild West travelling show. He is the owner of a paint Mustang, Hidalgo, with whom he has an extraordinary bond.Hopkins is then invited to compete in a famous Arabian race, the Ocean of Fire, three thousand miles across some of the hottest, most forbidding desert in the world. While there he meets Sheikh Riyadh (Omar Sharif), owner of Al-Hattal, the most perfect Arabian horse in the world at that time, who loves tales of the American West; the sheikh's daughter, Jazira (Zuleikha Robinson), who rides like the wind and is not at all the meek Bedouin woman she pretends to be, and who is promised to the Prince riding Al-Hattal; Lady Anne Davenport (Louise Lombard), owner of a gray Arabian mare whom she wishes to breed with Al-Hattal; and Prince Bin Al Reeh (Said Taghmaoui), who wants Al-Hattal - and Jazira - for his own.Hidalgo has chases, shootouts, rescues, and triumphs over unbelievable odds. It is anything but a true story, but, to quote Roger Ebert, "... if you do not have some secret place in your soul that still responds even a little to brave cowboys, beautiful princesses and noble horses, then you are way too grown up and need to cut back on cable news. And please ignore any tiresome scolds who complain that the movie is not really based on fact. Duh."
Artistic License / Based on a Great Big Lie / Very Loosely Based on a True Story: Take your pick. For "loosely based", even Frank Hopkins didn't claim he romanced a Sheik's daughter. For "artistic license", they fiddled with geography a fair bit for the sake of drama. As for the "great big lie", well, basically everyone but Frank Hopkins says he was never even within a continent of the race. Which, according to Arab consultants, never existed either.
Been There, Shaped History: Frank carries the message that results in the Wounded Knee Massacre, becomes the star of Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show, and culminates by basically making the government to declare the Mustang horse a protected species.
Did The Research: On the basis that Frank was supposed to be part Indian (some Indian people have apparently verified that he was), the filmmakers employed Lakotah extras and consultants, holy men and elders to make sure these parts of the story were accurate. Screenwriter John Fusco also wrote Thunderheart, which also used Lakotah actors, extras and consultants. The (actual) Ghost Dancers in Hidalgo are the same ones seen dancing in Thunderheart.
Groin Attack: After being seen in the tent with Jazira, Frank is told that he "will be removed of his infidel self." Fortunately Frank stalls for time.
Guilt Complex: With a side of Survivor Guilt. Frank, himself half Sioux Indian, carried the orders that led to the Wounded Knee massacre, and was there to see the aftermath. He's living in a bottle and "don't even know who Frank Hopkins is anymore" the next time we see him.
Half-Breed Discrimination: Frank had a white father and a Native American mother. As a result, he said he didn't know where he belonged.
Which, of course, is also symbolized in the disdain people show for Mustangs for being non-thoroughbreds.
Handshake Refusal: Sheik Riyadh refuses to shake Frank's hand, which is explained as if he were to touch an infidel, he would lose his ability to predict the future.
After Frank wins the race, Sheik Riyadh proudly offers to shake Frank's hand.
Frank: What about your ability to tell the future?
Sheik Riyadh: If I had the ability to foretell the future, perhaps I would have bet on a painted horse.
Jerk Ass: Prince Bin Al Reeh isn't one of the main villains nor in league with them, but repeatedly talks down to Frank on account of his being American and tries to scare him out of the race, bribes British soldiers to deny him water at the well, and runs away during a raider attack. Jazira, who's to become his fifth wife, has a very low opinion of him.
Averted with Prince Sakkar, who starts out like this but warms up to Frank after he rescues him from quicksand, and dies fighting by his side.
They get away with it because he's giving advice to Frank as an Indian elder traditionally advises a younger man.
Mercy Kill: One of the racers ends up doing this to his own horse after it's injured and can't travel anymore.
Mighty Whitey: Two counts: First, Hopkins comes to be seen as a champion of the Native Americans (perhaps forgivable, as he is indeed half-Indian, and on an Indian horse). Second, the entire premise is that he beats the Arabians and the Bedouins at their own race, on their own land, against their champion riders and horses. And also has to bat off the Sheik's daughter, to boot.
Mixed Ancestry: Frank as portrayed in the film is half Native American and half white.
Truth in Television: The subplot about the careful breeding of al-Khamsa Arabian horses is real. That little record book used as the MacGuffin in the big kidnap plot is real too. It contains the al-Khamsa breeding record and is worth the price of every horse in that race, plus the prize money and the extra $10,000 for Frank's gun. Davenport Arabians, descended from these bloodlines, also exist, although the real Davenport was a male American artist, not a spoiled British lady aristocrat.
What a Piece of Junk: Of the equine variety. Hidalgo's pinto coat and feral mustang bloodline invites derision from competitors, who assume only pure-bred Arabian horses can possibly survive the endurance race. Having been "bred" for hardiness by the unforgiving conditions of America's own arid wilderness, the wild-born Hidalgo beats both the desert and his rivals.