By Mark Saldana
Rating: 4 (Out of 4 Stars)
In the US, there is a program where wild Mustang horses are captured for their own protection and sent to prisons to be trained and auctioned. This program has been proven to be very therapeutic for inmates incarcerated for terrible crimes and allows them to find some satisfaction in a more productive occupation. Writer/director Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre has taken this concept and made a truly wonderful fictional film starring Matthias Schoenaerts.
Schoenaerts stars as Roman Coleman, an antisocial inmate convicted of a violent crime. Roman has not at all adjusted well to prison and often finds himself in trouble due to his penchant for fits of rage. While working a yard maintenance detail, he discovers a recently acquired wild Mustang in a prison barn and instantly becomes intrigued. Taking notice is head horse trainer Myles, who instantly realizes that Roman might be best suited for horse training. Roman, however, has much to learn about patience and understanding as he reluctantly attempts to take on the challenge and better himself as as result.
Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre, who co-wrote with Mona Fastvold and Brock Norman Brock, has made an absolutely tremendous movie with The Mustang. The filmmaker and his co-writers take a character who should be despised and feared and turn him into a sympathetic figure full of self-loathing, pain, regret, and anger. The film hits all of the perfect poignant and emotional notes, and does so with much humanity and clarity. It is easy to judge Roman harshly, at first, but his development makes a strong case for hope amidst a setting of hopelessness and sorrow. That is not to say that the filmmakers don’t realistically portray the harsh realities of prison life and the consequences of violent crime.
Matthias Schoenaerts, who first impressed me with his amazing performance in Bullhead, once again impresses with a perfectly nuanced and boiling turn as Roman. Bruce Dern is perfectly cast as the seasoned, tough, but caring sage Myles. Gideon Adlon also gives an unforgettable performance as Roman’s daughter Martha. I must also acknowledge the excellent acting of actor Jason Mitchell who stars as Roman’s prison friend Henry.
The Mustang is one of those soft-spoken, indie films that often flies below the radar of most movie audiences. However, believe me when I say that it is one of the best films I have seen from this year so far. The acting by Mattias Schoenaerts alone is worthy of awards. It is a film I hope that is not forgotten at the end of the year.