×

Film Review: ‘Running Wild: The Life of Dayton O. Hyde’

This affectionate portrait of South Dakota cowboy conservationist Dayton O. Hyde is too slow in the saddle.

With:

Dayton O. Hyde.

After spending more than a decade filming “Running Wild: The Life of Dayton O. Hyde,” it’s understandable that filmmaker Suzanne Mitchell might find it difficult to whittle her footage down to tolerable length for a feature documentary. But despite her obvious and contagious affection for her subject — or perhaps because of it — “Running Wild” canters languidly through biographical highlights, homemovies, archival news footage and talking-heads interviews. Theatrical prospects are dim for the overly discursive pic; still, ancillary distribution could reach viewers already interested in Hyde, a colorful author, rancher, horse-sanctuary founder and old-fashioned cowboy.

Early on, Hyde — well into his 80s, yet still sharp-witted and reasonably ambulatory — describes himself as “a cowboy first, a conservationist second, and a writer third.” Later, however, he indicates that he views “environmentalist” as something you should never call a cowboy, unless you smile. Whatever label he prefers, Hyde has earned the respect and support of equine enthusiasts throughout the world by founding and maintaining the Black Hills Wild Horse Sanctuary in South Dakota, an 11,000-acre habitat where more than 500 mustangs are allowed to roam free without fear of capture during controversial, U.S. government-sanctioned wild horse round-ups.

Throughout most of “Running Wild,” helmer Mitchell alternates between biographical narrative and Hyde’s present-day activism, in a manner designed to show that the man we see now is the end result of a decades-long period of education (both formal and auto-didactic) and evolving ideas.

A Michigan native, Hyde found work at his uncle’s Oregon cattle ranch at age 13. He was educated in a California private school — where, Hyde recalls, he had a fateful encounter with a famous visitor, poet Alfred Noyes — and, following WWII military service, the U. of California, Berkeley, where he earned an English degree and discovered his talent for writing.

Hyde went on to pen 20 books and novels, established himself as a freelance photographer for Life magazine — he proudly displays photos he shot of Slim Pickens during the latter’s heyday as a rodeo clown — and eventually took over the family ranch in Oregon. While in his 60s, he was inspired to establish his horse preserve and spent years gaining support for the projects from donors, volunteers and politicians.

One of the docu’s highlights is an archival news clip of Sen. Harry Reid sounding very impressed after meeting Hyde: “How often do you have someone come up to you that looks like he just climbed off a horse and says, “I’ve got a solution to a problem that you’ve had in Nevada for 10 years’?”

To its credit, “Running Wild” is something short of complete hagiography. The pic indicates Hyde more or less abandoned his wife and family to begin the horse preserve. And Hyde himself acknowledges that he could have been a better father to his children — one of whom died, in a darkly ironic twist of fate, as a result of a horse-riding mishap. The surviving children, it should be noted, sound far less critical while discussing their dad.

Mitchell would have done well to discipline her pic with a sharper focus, and to include least a few comments by Hyde’s critics, including cattle ranchers who take a dim view of wild horses grazing on rangeland. During its final third, pic offers a slightly more balanced of Hyde’s latest cause: his battle with developers who could damage the South Dakota ecosystem while mining uranium near the sanctuary.

Beautiful lensing by Mauro Brattoli and an evocative score Steve Poltz enrich the pic’s flavor as a document of, and a tribute to, an iconic cowboy’s indomitable spirit.

Popular on Variety

Film Review: 'Running Wild: The Life of Dayton O. Hyde'

Reviewed at AMC Studio 30, Houston, Oct. 4, 2013. Running time: 92 MIN.

Production:

(Documentary) A Screen Media Films release or a Free Run Films production in association with Full Motion Pictures, Telecom 2 and the Black Hills Wild Horse Sanctuary. Produced by Suzanne Mitchell. Co-producer, R.A. Fedde. Executive producers, Barbara Kopple, Robert Johnson, Alejandro Perez.

Crew:

Directed by Suzanne Mitchell. Camera (color), Mauro Brattoli; editor, R.A. Fedde; music, Steve Poltz; sound, Ryan Carroll, William Tsouris, Peter Miller, Gary Silver; associate producer, Pam Boker.

With:

Dayton O. Hyde.

More Film

  • Aaron Janus Lionsgate

    Lionsgate Hires 'A Quiet Place' Producer Aaron Janus as Senior VP of Production

    Lionsgate has hired Aaron Janus as its new senior vice president of production and promoted Meredith Wieck to the post of vice president of production.  Prior to Lionsgate, Janus served as Platinum Dunes’ head of development, where he oversaw filmmakers Brad Fuller, Andrew Form and Michael Bane. There, he brought in “A Quiet Place,” on [...]

  • Ang Lee Reveals First Look at

    Ang Lee on 'Gemini Man' and De-Aging Will Smith

    On paper, Ang Lee’s “Gemini Man” is a standard-issue, shoot ’em up with Will Smith playing a deadly assassin who must battle a younger clone of himself. The explosions and gun battles aren’t what drew Lee to the project, even if they’re the reason that most people will show up at theaters when it opens [...]

  • Hopper Reserve

    Dennis Hopper's Dying Wish: His Own Strain of Marijuana

    Even as celebrity brands are starting to flood the emerging Cannabis market, Hopper Reserve stands out. The brand was launched by Marin Hopper, Dennis Hopper’s daughter from his marriage to Brooke Hayward. Hopper Reserve is a gram of California indoor-grown flower, two packs of rolling papers, a pair of matches and a trading card either [...]

  • Sean Clarke Aardman Staff Photography Bristol.Pic

    Aardman Appoints Sean Clarke as New Managing Director

    Aardman, the Oscar-winning animation studio behind “Chicken Run” and “Early Man,” has appointed Sean Clarke as its new managing director, replacing co-founder David Sproxton, who is stepping down after 43 years. Clarke has worked at the British studio for more than 20 years, including heading the international rights and marketing department for over a decade. [...]

  • The Antenna

    Toronto Film Review: 'The Antenna'

    Jump scares, creepy noises and the tease of hidden-from-view dangers are all fine. But a truly frightening horror film unsettles with more than its crafts, but instead through the vulnerability of defenseless people stuck with bad options only. First-time writer-director Orçun Behram’s highly stylized and mildly disturbing “The Antenna,” a metaphor on Turkey’s current ruling [...]

  • Ad Astra Box Office

    Box Office Battle: 'Ad Astra' Takes on 'Rambo: Last Blood' and 'Downton Abbey'

    “Hustlers” and “Good Boys” proved that even in the age of Marvel dominance and remake mania, movies that don’t exist within an established franchise can still be box office draws. Can “Ad Astra” continue that trend? The space drama — starring Brad Pitt and directed by James Gray — arrives on the big screen this [...]

  • Harvey Weinstein Accuser Lucia Evans Breaks

    Harvey Weinstein Accuser Lucia Evans Breaks Silence After D.A. Dropped Charge

    Lucia Evans gave a wrenching account on Tuesday of her efforts to hold Harvey Weinstein responsible for sexual assault, saying she felt betrayed after the Manhattan D.A.’s office dropped her allegations last year. Evans spoke to Variety after giving a speech at a conference on influencer fraud in Manhattan, making her first public comments on [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content