The Mustang (2019)

Rates: * * * *

Why Did I Watch It: I was scrolling randomly the other eve and liked the sound of it.

Cast, crew, etc.

In a Nevada correctional facility, violent offender Roman Coleman sits through his sentence in furious silence. He keeps his mouth shut, his teeth clenched and his head down: whatever is plaguing this guy, he is keeping it to himself.

But the prison he is incarcerated in is unusual. Attached to it is a horse training facility; wild horses (that exist in unmanageable numbers) are captured, trained, and sold at auction. It is a fictionalised version of a real life program that provides some revenue to the prison system, and the prisoners with an atypical means of rehabilitation.

Coleman is assigned to this program to help with maintenance, a shit shovelling job that he initially ignores. But his interest is piqued by a new, especially wild horse; a handsome coffee coloured mustang who cannot, who WILL not, accept the restrictions now being forced on him. Recognising a kindred spirit, Coleman’s growing fixation on this horse will slowly, ever so slowly, start to nudge him back towards the world of human affairs.

This heartfelt little film walks a considered line between tough minded, and gentle, personified by the performance of Matthias Schoenaerts. His protagonist is effectively intimidating and shut down in the film’s first section, and this gives believable way to his, gradual, opening up in the second half. It is an excellent performance. And Bruce Dern has some great scenes in a milder version of the same thing; a tough old coot, who knows when to offer up encouragement.

I was really impressed with the film’s restraint; while there are some emotional moments as the story unfolds, none of it feels histrionic. These are characters who will only express their feelings grudgingly, and even when they are moved to do so, the release is only brief. If any of these people are headed towards a happier ending, it will be by one small step at a time.

First time film maker Laure de Clermont-Tonnere has a very assured touch, and beautifully captures the spare Nevada location; the perfect backdrop for this lean narrative. This really got me on an emotional level; the scene where Coleman opens up to his daughter, his first captivating view of the mustang (where he literally stops in his tracks), his final glimpse of it from solitary, his daughter’s letter to him from her new home.

Some really… just lovely moments.

Talents to look out for on both sides of the camera.

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