EVERYBODY KNOWS Butch Cassidy died in a shootout in Bolivia. What this movie presupposes is: Maybe he didn't?
Actually, the 1908 death of Cassidy and his partner-in-crime the Sundance Kid has been a source of debate for decades, but it's best to take Blackthorn as a kind of Eli Cash-style redrafting of a spotty historical record. A loveably grizzled Sam Shepard plays James Blackthorn, the assumed identity taken up by Cassidy after the Bolivian Army has declared him dead. Cassidy/Blackthorn has settled into a quiet life raising horses in a remote Bolivian outpost, sleeping with a native girl and slowly chipping away at all the stolen money he's saved up. It's an idyllic retirement for the former outlaw, and he seems content and peaceful in his old age.
It's the existence of a nephew that beckons him back to North America. Actually, the "nephew" could very well be Cassidy's own child: He's supposedly the son of the Sundance Kid and Sundance's girlfriend Etta Place, but in a series of flashbacks—with the younger Butch played by Game of Thrones' Nikolaj Coster-Waldau—it's suggested that Etta loved both men. Blackthorn collects the rest of his savings, packs up his best horse, and makes his way north across the Bolivian highlands.
Of course, there are setbacks almost immediately, and Blackthorn soon finds himself teaming up with a Spanish outlaw (Eduardo Noriega) to recover stolen money from an abandoned mine. Although there's plenty of bullets and betrayal, Blackthorn remains primarily a patient, thoughtful character study. The Bolivian backdrop is uniformly gorgeous in every shot, and Shepard is simply outstanding. I could have done without the flashbacks—they kept fucking with my desire to imagine this as an unofficial sequel to Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid—but in all, Blackthorn is a worthy, rewarding western.