Actor Viggo Mortensen made his first starring appearance in a film after his breakthrough performance in the Lord of the Rings trilogy with this period adventure. Frank T. Hopkins (Mortensen) is a U.S. Cavalry officer who earned a reputation as one of the fastest and most daring riders in the West; however, after taking part in the bloody massacre at Wounded Knee, Hopkins becomes disenchanted with the Cavalry, and once his hitch is up, he takes a job as a rider with a seedy touring Wild West show. During an engagement in New York, Hopkins meets Aziz (Adam Alexi-Malle), an associate of wealthy Bedouin Sheikh Riyadh (Omar Sharif), who knows of Hopkins' talents and wants him to take part in "The Ocean of Fire," an annual 3,000-mile desert horse race running from Arabia to Iraq. Hopkins accepts the invitation and sails to the Middle East with his trusty mustang Hidalgo without knowing just what he's getting himself into. Once he arrives, Hopkins learns that the punishing race course claims the lives of nearly half its contestants, and that most of his competitors ride pure-bred Arabian stallions and do not regard Hidalgo and his master as worthy adversaries. Temporarily exiled to a land where freedom eludes the multitudes and class and wealth define one's fate, Hopkins finds himself riding for both honor and principle, with the support of Riyadh and his beautiful, headstrong daughter, Jazira (Zuleikha Robinson), though the Sheikh's nephew Katib (Silas Carson) is equally determined to see Hopkins go down in defeat. Hidalgo was directed by Joe Johnston, who previously worked with animals on the run in Jumanji and Jurassic Park III.
by Mark Deming synopsis