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It featured the then unknown, Edward James Olmos, as Gregorio Cortez. Gregorio Cortez is a poor peasant who one day is visited by the local white sheriff who is inquiring about a stolen horse. Gregorio Cortez doesn't speak English and the Spanish interpreter isn't that knowledgeable in the variance of the Spanish language. He asks Gregorio Cortez if he has purchased a horse, and Gregorio Cortez replies that he has not. Gregorio Cortez in fact had purchased a female horse, but it is differentiated in the Spanish language. In Spanish, a female horse is called a "Yegua". Thus Gregorio Cortez had answered truthfully, but pistols are drawn and Gregorio Cortez's brother is killed, and then the sheriff is shot by Gregorio Cortez in self defense.
Gregorio Cortez goes off with his horse and there is the action of the film. It has some lovely music and the scenes are done well. The local posse and sheriff are on his trail and finally capture him.
The Ballad of Gregorio Cortez was also a song of the time.
Gregorio Cortez is based on a true incident.
Cortez is on the run from a determined posse after having killed a beloved local lawman (Timothy Scott, "Macon County Line"). Stepping into the late lawman's role is amiable Sheriff Fly (James Gammon, "Major League"), who leads the gang who are bent on exacting supposed "justice".
However, Villasenor and Young take an interesting narrative approach, giving out details from a couple of perspectives, and not really stating Cortez's side of things until late in the game; we don't learn that the whole incident derived from a simple misunderstanding until the final third or so.
Along the way, we get exquisite rural photography courtesy of D.P. Reynaldo Villalobos, stirring music (on which both W. Michael Lewis and Olmos himself worked, adapting the legendary corrido folk song about Cortez), and a tale with emotional resonance.
Olmos is quietly powerful in the lead, and is extremely well supported by Gammon, Tom Bower ("Die Hard 2"), Bruce McGill ("National Lampoon's Animal House"), Brion James ("Blade Runner"), Alan Vint ("Badlands"), Scott, Pepe Serna ("Vice Squad"), Michael McGuire ("Hard Times"), William Sanderson ('Newhart'), Barry Corbin ("No Country for Old Men"), Jack Kehoe ("Melvin and Howard"), and the lovely Rosanna DeSoto ("Stand and Deliver").
Haunting and memorable, "The Ballad of Gregorio Cortez" packs a pretty impressive punch.
Eight out of 10.
Director Robert M. Young, who also co-wrote the thoughtful script with Victor Villasenor, not only presents a flavorsome evocation of the early turn of the century period setting that has a wonderfully lived-in authenticity, but also offers a trenchant and provocative commentary on prejudice, miscommunication, how the media can turn an ordinary man into a larger-than-life folk hero, and the harsh ugly reality of "frontier justice" that acquires considerable resonance and poignancy from the stark and unsentimental manner in which it tells the compelling fact-based story.
Olmos brings a winning humanity and vulnerability to his resourceful and reluctant outlaw character. Moreover, there are spot-on supporting contributions from James Gammon as tough, but fair Sheriff Frank Fly, Bruce McGill as earnest reporter Blakely, Brion James as the no-nonsense Captain Rogers, Pepe Serna as Cortez's brother Romaldo, Barry Corbin as compassionate lawyer B.R. Abernathy, Jack Kehoe as slimy prosecutor Pierson, and William Sanderson as a lonesome cowboy who's desperate for companionship. Kudos are also in order for the lovely cinematography by Reynaldo Villalobos and the harmonic score by Olmos and W. Michael Lewis. An excellent and affecting film.