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Review: The Mustang (Sundance)

The Mustang (Sundance)
8 10

PLOT: A convict (Matthias Schoenaerts) who’s recently emerged from a long-spell in isolation, is assigned to an inmate program where they train wild mustangs to be sold at public auctions.

REVIEW: It’s rare that a prison film ever actually focuses on rehabilitation. Usually, when Hollywood depicts life behind bars, it reverts to stock types and is free of nuance. No doubt, American prisons are a jungle (SHOT CALLER is a really good recent prison pic) but if you do any reading about them at all, you’ll note the occasional happy (or happy-ish) ending. French director Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre’s THE MUSTANG probably isn’t going to be what anyone would call a feel-good movie, but it does offer a glimmer of hope that just sometimes people can find redemption.

Our anti-hero here is Matthias Schoenaerts’s Roman Coleman, in prison for a horrific crime (revealed late in the film) that’s left him a shell of his former self. He despises himself for what he’s done and can’t accept even the most fragile olive branch from his now grown (and pregnant) daughter (Gideon Adlon) who clearly needs him to be there for her – even though he utterly refuses to let her in thinking he doesn’t deserve any kind of relationship with the outside at all.

Schoenaerts depicts a lot of pain in this grounded, impactful performance, and the director wisely opts for sparse minimalism, letting him dominate the film, keeping her focus ultra-focused on this caged beast. It’s no wonder then that he forms a kinship with a wild mustang that can’t be broken, with him having enough of an affinity for the horse that the man in charge of the program (a likably cantankerous Bruce Dern) gives him a shot with the animal.

Nothing here is easily earned – not Roman’s relationship with his daughter nor his relationship with the horse he calls Marquis. Schoenarts is just terrific – this is the best English-language performance he’s ever given, being comparable to his work in DISORDER and BULLHEAD. It’s his show, with highly billed supporting players like Connie Britton and Jason Mitchell having relatively small roles. Being a prison flick, there’s also the undercurrent of violence, including a drugged-up gangster who wants Roman’s access to the vet’s supply of ketamine – a goldmine for an inmate.

Despite this, THE MUSTANG never goes down a predictable route. Roman’s relationship with Marquis is moving, but never too sweet, with the animal still capable of turning on him on a dime, similar to Roman himself, who abuses the animal in a hard to watch scene. It feels authentic, and such a program does indeed seem like a better idea than just letting inmates rot away, something the correctional system seems built to do at times.

In effect, THE MUSTANG is one of the few prison movies I’ve ever seen that’s actually about rehabilitation and doesn’t end in violence or escape. Rather, it’s an evocative, honest look at the journey that a man who’s made horrible mistakes can make if given the chance. It’s a simple but good piece of work, if perhaps too minimalist (or rather, European) to ever really go mainstream.

Source: JoBlo.com

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