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The Mustang

by Kevin Taft
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Friday Mar 15, 2019
'The Mustang'
'The Mustang'  

Actress Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre's directorial debut feature "The Mustang" is a lovingly-crafted story of redemption and emotional freedom that is both visually stunning and quietly affecting.

The film is based on the fact that there are over 100,000 wild mustangs populating open areas of the U.S., but because of land privatization and over-population, they are herded off to either be killed or put into a program where they are broken and sold at auction. This program in question is used to help rehabilitate prisoners who get a new lease on life through their bond with and training of the wild animals. Because in their taming of the beasts, they are "tamed" as well.

When Roman Coleman (Matthias Schoenaerts) is moved to a different prison facility (after 12 years in the system), he is assigned to do outside labor. There, he comes across a particularly "wild" mustang that sparks his curiosity. The mustang (he later names Marcus) is violent, and clearly unhappy being cooped up - just like Roman. Because of this connection, the head of the program Myles (Bruce Dern) suggests to Roman that he become a part of the crew that will rehabilitate the animals. Soon enough, Roman is trying to break the horse and get him to a place where he can be auctioned off to start a new life in other arenas (usually the police force or border patrol).

Meanwhile, Roman's daughter Martha (Gideon Adlon) shows up during visitor's hours, pregnant and with a clear dislike of the father she feels abandoned her. What Roman did to be incarcerated isn't initially known, but as the film progresses we get the entire devastating story.

The film isn't just about Roman's coming to terms with his anger and guilt, but also how he can heal the relationship with his daughter before he loses her forever.

Schoenaerts is remarkable here. An actor from Belgium, Schoenaerts is usually relegated to the strapping bad guy role, but here he uses his size and strength to show Roman's brutality. Just as effectively, though, the actor gives us the gentleness Roman has buried underneath the brick wall visage he's created. Roman doesn't say a lot, but we see everything through his eyes. When he connects with his horse, the moments are breathtaking and guide us to root for a man who hasn't always done right by the people in his life.

Clermont-Tonnerre has fashioned a gently touching tale that feels like a sibling to last year's "The Rider," but with a clearer momentum. What she does so beautifully is to not over-sentimentalize the story. Events play out realistically and sometimes tepidly, which make them all the more moving. Her camera navigates both the wide open plains of Nevada as well as the extreme close-ups of Marcus and Roman's moments of bonding with equal vitality. So, at once, the audience silently gasps at the beauty of the untouched vistas she allows us to see in all of their splendor and then narrows in on the intimate connection between man and animal.

"The Mustang" might not rewrite the well-trodden themes it presents, but it packs an emotional free-spirited blow in its final moments. It's a magnificent film of quiet, heartbreaking beauty.

Kevin Taft is a screenwriter/critic living in Los Angeles with an unnatural attachment to 'Star Wars' and the desire to be adopted by Steven Spielberg.


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