(New Zealand - 2014; US release 2015)
(US - 2015)
ASSASSINATION TANGO, the great Robert Duvall stumbles badly with the awful WILD HORSES, a rambling, self-indulgent home movie with two purposes: to allow Duvall to yet again play--wait for it--an irascible, ornery old coot and to give a leading role to his much younger wife Luciana, who has a total of three acting credits, two being in films directed by her husband. Duvall has helmed five films since 1977's little-seen, self-released rodeo documentary WE'RE NOT THE JET SET, and his directing efforts are small, often self-financed passion projects, with 1983's ANGELO MY LOVE scoring some significant critical acclaim and 1997's THE APOSTLE breaking through to the mainstream and netting Duvall a Best Actor Oscar nomination. With the barely-released WILD HORSES however, Duvall is all over the place as a writer and director, with a meandering story that goes nowhere and entirely too many scenes brought down by the atrocious non-acting of Luciana Duvall and a supporting cast of non-professionals from the Salt Lake City and Magna, UT area where the film was shot. Duvall's wife--truly one of the worst actresses you'll ever see--has a monotone delivery that makes her sound hypnotized and she repeatedly trips over her dialogue. Some of the local actors pause their readings like they momentarily forgot their line, find their bearings and keep going. Then there's the poor kid playing Duvall's grandson, obviously distracted by the crew and looking directly into the camera several times in one scene as a reassuring Josh Hartnett visibly tries to keep him focused. It actually looks like Hartnett and the child were still rehearsing the scene when Duvall decided it was good enough. Personal passion projects with a gritty, DIY feel are fine, but there's a big difference between "naturalistic acting" and "people who have no business being in front of a camera." The 84-year-old Duvall has been a working actor in film and television since 1960. He's a living legend, but with all due respect, that doesn't excuse his attempting to pass this amateur-night vanity project off as a real movie.
The film opens with crotchety, gun-toting, Bible-thumping Texas rancher Scott Briggs (Duvall) finding his youngest son Ben making out with his best friend Jimmy in the barn. 15 years later, Texas Ranger Samantha Payne (Mrs. Duvall) re-opens an investigation into the disappearance of Jimmy, who was never seen again after that night on the Briggs farm. Scott remains close to his two older sons, Johnny (Devon Abner) and KC (Hartnett), and extends an olive branch to the estranged, openly gay Ben (James Franco), who ran away to live with his mother (wives leaving them years earlier is a recurring motif for Duvall's grizzled old cowpokes) and hasn't seen his father since that fateful night. Scott wants his sons home so he can finalize his will and set things right, which also involves revealing that family friend Maria (Angie Cepeda, also in the recent Duvall-as-cantankerous-old-bastard dud A NIGHT IN OLD MEXICO), who's "like a sister" to the Briggs boys, actually is their sister, thanks to a years-ago fling. When he isn't mending fences with Ben, Scott, who obviously knows the truth behind Jimmy's disappearance, is pressuring the local law, who gave him a pass 15 years ago, into "encouraging" Payne to give up her investigation and leave him alone, and after multiple attempts on her life by goons in the employ of the corrupt deputy sheriff, she's not about to ease off on old Scott. WILD HORSES has the makings of an intriguing mix of family skeletons drama and revenge thriller, but Duvall can't be bothered to focus on either of those potentials. He's more interested in local color and capturing the chattering, non-professional actors being "real," which doesn't really translate to watchable cinema when they can't hold their own with experienced vets like himself, Franco, Hartnett, and BABEL Oscar-nominee Adriana Barraza as Jimmy's still-devastated mother. At times, it seems like WILD HORSES is trying to go for a THREE BURIALS OF MELQUIADES ESTRADA-type vibe, but Duvall's aimless script, lax direction, and unconditional love for his wife prevent it from accomplishing anything at all. (Unrated, 104 mins)
(Germany/UK - 2014; US release 2015)