Eye For Film >> Movies >> Unbranded (2015) Film Review
Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson
Phillip Baribeau's directorial debut is an epic undertaking - documenting four men as they make a 3,000-mile trip, via horseback, from the Mexican border to the Canadian border taking in five States and some of the most beautiful scenery the US has to offer along the way. Given that he couldn't ride when he agreed to take on the project with its mastermind, Ben Masters, he certainly can't be accused of a lack of commitment.
The horses chosen by Masters for the trip are no ordinary thoroughbreds, instead they're some of the thousands of wild mustangs that are removed from the land by the government each year in a bid to manage their ever-increasing numbers and stop them overwhelming the environment in which they feed. Sadly, these horses often then face a life of penned captivity as there are not enough people willing to adopt them and train them - seen in brief here but which takes at least three months. As the film progresses, the adventures of Ben and his friends Jonny, Thomas and Ben 2 are interspersed with talking heads explaining the wild mustang situation, both from the pro-control and pro-freedom sides of the argument.
The end result is part buddy trail-trip mosey and part factual gallop. The young men making the trip are engaging enough and to Baribeau's credit he doesn't force a 'narrative journey' on their physical one. What we do see, however, is the men learning as they go - often from painful hoof-to-the-face experience. As one of the good ol' boy family friends says near the start of the film: "Good judgement comes from experience and experience comes from bad judgement... and sometimes bad judgement can be pretty hurtful."
Baribeau makes a valiant attempt to stitch the mustang facts and figures into the body of the film but though the intertitle plates are informative, they feel as if they are running on a different track to the men's experience. The episodic nature of Baribeau's 'storytelling' also means that he occasionally stumbles on sudden moments of humour - such as the men all passing round a copy of Fifty Shades Of Grey - or sadness, but he seems scared to linger or dig too deep, perhaps a result of being so 'embeded' within the camp for so long. The men are also a bit too aware of the camera so that certain interactions have a unfortunate staged quality.
Horse and nature lovers will enjoy the landscape - unsurprisingly places such as the Grand Canyon and the wilds of Montana make for stunning backdrops, with sequences of fishing during a lightning storm and the men and horses picking their way round the rim of the Canyon on a frighteningly narrow ledge particularly impressive. Baribeau's background is in cinematography and he has an eye for a good shot, even if he can't resist over-using slow motion. Saddle up and settle in, although those of tender sensibilities should be warned, not all of the four-legged stars make it to the end of the trail.Reviewed on: 27 Nov 2015