Speaking of Matt Damon... How young does he look! 2000 was a good year for him, I think. Fresh from a break up with Winona Ryder, fresh into a relationship with the latest it-girl on the scene, an upstart from Spain by the name of Penelope Cruz, and fresh off an oscar win for best screenplay for Good Will Hunting. Oh, and parading around Texas in a great wardrobe in the Billy Bob Thornton-directed adaptation of one of my favourite books, All The Pretty Horses. So the film doesn't really live up to the book. But as many directors have found out the hard way, it's notoriously difficult to adapt Cormac McCarthy novels. Partly because of the erratic way he constructs his narratives - he famously ignores direct speech marks, punctuation and capitalisation, and his stories always seem to have circuitous, misleading narrative arcs that often begin at the end, finish at the start and have a whole lot of nothing in the middle. Either you try and Hollywood it (as this film did, not unsuccessfully), or you just create a carbon copy on the screen, as No Country for Old Men did. People who dislike this film for the way that it kind of mashed the story together are right, it is a bit disjointed. But then, so is the novel on which it is based. It doesn't have a happy ending. It doesn't even really have an ending, not in a traditional, cinematic sense of the word anyway. But oh boy, did it look good. It did for Texas and the Mexico-United States border what Baz Luhrmann and Australia did for Darwin and the Northern Territory.
Anyway, not really important. What is important is all that hootin', falootin' cowboy gear that Matt Damon shrugs on in this film. The hats! The stetsons! The boots! The double denim! THE BANDANAS! It's almost too much to bear. I think the world is having a cowboy moment, not the least because of Isabel Marant. To me, it's always been about the ideal of the cowboy. The freedom, the wide expanses of empty land, the self-power, the sturdy pair of leather boots. That's why I always loved True Grit as a kid (the film's not bad either). Mattie Ross was everything that a tomboy could ever want, a no-nonsense, 14-year old go-getter who rode a pony faster than any boy and had two long plaits that hung down her back. I wore overalls and plaid shirts and dreamt of summers spent on ranches with Dennis Quaid for a dad. I never quite got over my cowboy moment, not with all those checkered shirts hanging so tantalisingly close in my dad's wardrobe, not with a pair of dicker boots, scuffed and much-loved on my bedroom floor, not with dreams of Matt Damon's quiet, silent-type John Grady Cole on my mind.
I think what I loved most about the costumes in this film was how their reinforced how American this ideal of the cowboy really is. Everyone knows that the cowboy is an American construction, but it is nowhere more evident when placed in stark contrast with the richly imagined wardrobe of Penelope Cruz's Alejandra and her family in Mexico - just a hop, skip and a trot away from Texas, but oh it doesn't look that way in the clothes. Cole's rich indigo denim and chinos couldn't be further from the lace and the patterns and the prints that Alejandra wears. I remember noticing that even her saddle - embroidered with gold filligree thread as all aristocratic horses' saddles ought to be if they possibly can - was more colourful than Cole's one. But despite all of this I would pick Cole's wardrobe over hers any day. I would pick those red bandanas, tied around the neck with just the right amount of insouciance, those slightly-fitted chinos and tucked in shirts, those woven alpaca wool shawl blankets and, oh, those cowboy hats tilted just so, any day of the week, and twice on Sundays.