Hello and welcome to the movie blog of author John DeFrank - FilmZ and Guy Sobriquet Malone - Researcher

The Mustang

The Mustang -- a Review by Guy S. Malone, Researcher

Director Laure De Clermont-Tonnerre spent time at the Sundance Institute to develop this story about a man and a horse.  Yes, we know it's been done before but rarely like this, enough so that Robert Redford took it on as executive producer.  Using the severe canvas of the Nevada desert, beautifully captured by cinematographer Ruben Impens, De Clermont-Tonnerre tells an equally stark story forwarding the the belief that even the most broken among us can develop empathy and thus start on the path toward redemption.  The success of this film is rooted in the performance of its star, Matthias Schoenaerts (The Drop, Red Sparrow, The Danish Girl), as Roman, a violent convict serving hard time in a high security prison, and we believe it is one of the best you will see this year.

Roman has served 12 years for a violent crime, the specifics of which we don't know.  As we meet him he has just returned from isolation. and is meeting with a no-nonsense prison psychologist (Connie Britton).  In response to her probes, he merely stares, but as she persists, she finally asks, "How does Roman feel about reentering the prison's general population?" His response is an understatement: "I'm not good with people,"  As a result, she recommends he have a solo job outdoors mucking manure.

We learn that this prison takes part in a Bureau of Land Management initiative which saves some of  the 100,000 wild mustangs who roam the West.  They are herded by helicopter and a dozen or so are brought to the prison for an equine therapy program whereby they are tamed, then trained by inmates to be sold at auction.   The foreman of the project is Myles (the aptly cast Bruce Dern), a cranky piece of hickory who knows men as well as he knows horses.  Myles notices  Roman has a strong interest in the wildest of these mustangs, and we see at once the parallels between man and beast.  Myles assigns another inmate, Henry (Jason Mitchell--Mudbound, Detroit), the self-professed best trainer, to show him the ropes.

At the same time, Roman gets a visit from his estranged 16-year old daughter Martha (Gideon Adlon), who is pregnant and only wants him to sign papers for her emancipation so she can sell her grandmother's home, which was left to them.  For the first time, we begin to touch on the details surrounding Roman's crime, as Martha's hostility and resentment and his social maladjustment make for a brief, unpleasant meeting.  Just when Roman is at his most alienated he turns his energies to the mustang.  He gets an equestrian magazine to learn more about his charge, but from academics to corral the conflict beteen two wild and headstrong creatures rains frustration down on both--Myles even banishes Roman for a time.

Just as Roman seems like a lost cause, Henry tells him, "if you wanna control the horse, first you gotta control yourself."  Only then he begns to make progress. and that progress extends to both his psychological counseling and his relationship with Martha.  In his restorative justice anger management sessions he pries himself open as he gains insight into his own impulsive behavior.  In subsequent visits from his daughter (he still hasn't signed the papers) we also see him opening up more to her, culminating in one of the most gut-wrenching scenes in the movie.  Though it is not in Roman's nature to be outgoing, as he gains insight into himself, he allows the light to shine into his soul, the greatest manifestation of this is his relationship with the mustang.

De Clermont-Tonnerre's sidling pace brings slow-burn tension and tiny revelations as the film moves toward resolution.  It should be added, though, that the film never seems slow, and at a sparse 96 minutes, it left all of us wanting more.  Although it's early, we see The Mustang as an Independent Spirit Awards player for "Film," Director," Cinematography," Supporting Actor" (Dern), and Schoenaerts should lead the way, even making a strong bid for an Oscar.
8.0 out of 10


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