Dir; Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre. Starring; Matthias Schoenaerts, Bruce Dern, Gideon Adlon. R. Color. 96 min.
More than simply telling a story few know about, “The Mustang” is a realistic portrayal of two tortured, angry souls helping each other find peace. What makes this film unique is that those two souls are a prisoner and a wild horse. It shows that hope and redemption are both possible no matter the circumstance.
Unbeknownst to many, multiple Southwest states run a program in which, due to overpopulation, wild mustangs are rounded up by the state government and put into areas connected to penitentiaries where prisoners are tasked with training the wild animals for auction. The argument between being a good rehabilitation method versus an exploitation of inmates is an underlying theme.
Based on a true story, “The Mustang” is set at a penitentiary in Nevada. Our main focus is on Roman, played by Matthias Schoenaerts. We first meet him in solitary confinement because he is, for lack of a better word, an angry S.O.B. He even tells the prison psychiatrist that he ‘Doesn’t do well with people’. After getting out of isolation Roman is recommended for the horse wrangling program.
Roman starts off shoveling horse poop, which obviously is not an ideal situation for a brooding personality. During a standard day of picking up crap, Roman sees an isolated wooden pen that is shaking. He walks up and sees a wild stang through the doors and the connection is instant. Quickly the head of the horse program Myles (Bruce Dern) shows up and pulls Roman away from the crazy horse.
Myles sees something in Roman and upgrades him to the position of training horses, in particular the wild one. Thrown into the ring with the beast, Roman literally has a fist fight with the animal, forcing him back into isolation. On thin ice, Roman earns his way back with the group with prison program member Henry (Jason Mitchell) tasked with training the newbie. Ultimately, Roman is able to tame the untamable, naming the horse Marcus. This gives him hope as he has found a purpose heading into the upcoming auction.
Unfortunately that hope and experience are both paralleled, not just by being a prisoner but also his distraught pregnant daughter Martha (Gideon Adlon) who has a well deserved grudge against her imprisoned father. She wants pops to sign away the rights to grandma’s house so that she can sell it and move to Arizona with her baby daddy. You never see the character but it is assumed he is a deadbeat. A scene in which Roman breaks down and we find out why he is really in prison is heartbreaking.,
One of the biggest strengths of “The Mustang” is the staunch, unforgiving look at prison life. Cinematographer Ruben Impens makes incarceration anything but pretty in the jail cells and combines that depressing visual outlook with beautiful imagery while the prisoners work with the horses.
The movie ultimately puts the weight on the amazing performance of Matthias Schoenaerts. It seems like he is just brooding at first, but that is the point. That take on the character makes the emotional moments, which he nails, so much more powerful. Bruce Dern, even though he is playing himself which is not a bad thing, brings a level of wisdom to the story. Relative newcomer Gideon Adlon certainly holds her own and stands out in every scene. Keep an eye out for this young actress in the future.
“The Mustang” is, at its core, a story of hope. Not your romantic comedy style of hope. Your life sucks but there is always something to live for type of hope. We all make mistakes, some bigger than others. Roman made an unforgivable mistake, but he is not evil at the core. Yet, instead of placing blame, “The Mustang” is about acceptance.
Suck Factor: 1out of 7 (7 means your movie really SUCKS!)
Written by Byrd
The SUCK FACTOR, how it works. We have flipped the rating system upside down. If a film is classic, it gets a 0. Meaning that movie has 0 SUCKS. If a film is complete trash you must avoid at all costs, it gets a 7, meaning this movie really SUCKS!