Title: Wild Horse, Wild Ride
Directors: Alex Dawson and Greg Gricus
Director Cindy Meehl’s soulful, Sundance-minted “Buck,” which told the story of quietly charismatic horse whisperer Buck Brannaman, illustrated just about as well as any film could the unique and poignant connection between man and horse, and how taming wild or otherwise unruly mustangs is a process that often reveals as much about the owner as it does the horse. Following in its nonfiction footsteps (or horseshoe tracks, I guess) is “Wild Horse, Wild Ride,” an engaging look at a bunch of folks who try to do just that.
As with many other documentaries of sub-cultural curiosity, “Wild Horse, Wild Ride” builds its narrative around a competition, in this case the Extreme Mustang Makeover Challenge, an annual contest in Fort Worth, Texas, that solicits 100 people to spend 100 days each taming a randomly selected, totally wild horse in order to help get it adopted into a better life beyond federal corrals. Wife-and-husband co-directors Alex Dawson and Greg Gricus, in their feature documentary debut, select an interesting cross-section of subjects, and then track their progress (or lack thereof) over the course of the next three-plus months.
The framework of the actual competition, which unfolds over the course of two days in front of a bunch of judges and a public that will then be bidding on the horses, isn’t as well sketched out as in movies like “Spellbound,” “Jig” or “Make Believe: The Battle to Become the World’s Best Teen Magician.” There’s not a huge sense of audience emotional investment in the stakes, perhaps influenced by the fact that some of the finalists — a former champion and the previous year’s runner-up — aren’t included in the movie’s roster of interviewees, and perhaps given the many different reasons the subjects have for tackling this unique challenge.
Regardless, “Wild Horse, Wild Ride” benefits from a professional technical package that isn’t overly slick to the point of distraction. Its cinematography is attractive, but not overly precious. Dawson and Gricus capture the often intimate, slowly developing bonds between horse and trainer, but also intercut training footage with the requisite sit-down interviews with their subjects.
It’s here that one wishes the movie really stretched its legs and unleashed more of a gallop. Big-hearted if sometimes politely incurious about these disparate motivations, “Wild Horse, Wild Ride” doesn’t appreciably root down into all the lives of its human subjects. It seems like it doesn’t want to offend by asking tough questions, which is fine but at times a bit unsatisfying. (Neither does it invest time in explaining how it is that thousands of horses are rounded up and removed from public lands by the U.S. government each year, since that would presumably be protected environment.) A certain scrim remains, even if the footage of horses and men (and women) learning to trust one another is inarguably often fascinating.
NOTE: For more information on the movie, visit www.WildHorseWildRide.com.
Written by: Brent Simon