ByBenjamin Marlatt, writer at

Fifteen years ago, Texas rancher Scott Briggs (Robert Duvall) discovered his son Ben (James Franco) was involved in a gay affair and drove him out of his home. The ranch hand Ben was having the affair with “mysteriously” disappeared as well.

Cut to present day, Texas Ranger Samantha Payne (Luciana Duvall) has reopened the cold case of the missing ranch hand, conveniently around the time Scott’s prodigal son Ben returns home so that Scott can settle his affairs with him and his two other sons, KC (Josh Hartnett) and Johnny (Devon Abner).

Wild Horses is quite a deceptive film. It features names like “Robert Duvall” and “James Franco” on the posters and advertisements, and contains a plot centering on their strained relationship, yet is strangely inconsistent, wildly disjointed and twice as boring as you’d ever expect a film starring Duvall and Franco to be.

Directed by Duvall, the legendary Oscar-winning actor has two competing narratives that constantly butt heads with each other. The first is the estranged relationship between Scott and his gay son Ben; the second is Samantha Payne’s cold case investigation into Ben’s missing lover that has Scott pegged as suspect #1 in his disappearance. Both play out like a soap opera on Xanax, consisting of a series of conversational scenes that never gel with one another. This leads me to believe three possibilities…

  • There’s an abnormally large amount of deleted scenes just waiting to be included on the eventual DVD release.
  • The studio behind this film accidentally released just the deleted scenes instead of the film.
  • Duvall and his cast and crew just played everything by ear in a half-assed manner.

What’s most disappointing here is not the headlining talent being stuck in a bad film, it’s that Robert Duvall has proven himself as a director before. He’s not some A-list star now suddenly bit by the filmmaking bug and, hell with it, why not direct a movie? Duvall wrote, directed and starred in the wonderful The Apostle (his best film as director which earned him a Best Actor nomination) and he followed up that film with Assassination Tango, a solidly directed crime thriller. Surprisingly, Wild Horses, looks amateurishly put together. So many unnecessary elements are thrown in the mix and so many loose ends are left not only unanswered but completely abandoned (such as Briggs enlisting Jim Parrack’s deputy to follow Payne around), you’d swear everyone involved just forgot they were making a film.

Or they fell asleep while filming a car chase that’s so dreadfully lethargic they had to have had two completely blitzed potheads sitting behind the wheels, and when they all woke up they lost track of where they were.

Something good could’ve been developed with the relationship between Scott and his sons, but Duvall must’ve felt that wouldn’t pack enough dramatic punch, so a missing persons investigation led by a very stiffly performed Luciana Duvall (Robert’s wife) would do the trick. And just in case that wasn’t enough, he’d throw in some side-plots involving police corruption and a few threats made by KC to Payne. Duvall puts it all in there to give his wife more to do than just looking pretty in her panties, an occasional shot he can’t help but indulge in, and even KC’s intimidation tactics on her seem like out-of-nowhere efforts to give Josh Hartnett more material to work with. But none of it adds up to anything coherent and only serves to hurt the one subplot – the tragic relationship between a father and his three children – that contained any potential.

To her credit, though, Adriana Barraza does bring some much-needed (and that can’t be emphasized enough) emotion as the mother of the missing ranch hand who convinces Payne to reopen the case. So there’s at least someone within this laborious snooze-fest that shows even the slightest sign of a pulse.

Despite a promising pairing between Robert Duvall and James Franco and Barry Markowitz’s cinematography, which convincingly turns Utah’s locations into the story’s Texan setting, Wild Horses is a sluggishly paced, frustratingly disjointed mess that’s burdened by all of the narrative’s incoherent, meandering subplots and a shocking lack of heart and emotion. Don’t let the title fool you; as dull as this film moves from beginning to end, there’s nothing “wild” to be found here.

I give Wild Horses a D (★).

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