Directed by: Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre
Written by: Laure de Clemont-Tonnerre, Mona Fastvold, Brock Norman Brock
Starring: Matthias Schoenaerts, Jason Mitchell, Gideon Adlon, Connie Britton, Bruce Dern
In its purest form, prisons are a place where someone receives a sentence to do time for crimes they have committed and receive the proper rehabilitation to re-enter society. Unfortunately, that ideal gets muddled when prisoners are exploited for labor where they receive very minimal compensation, but this film shows a program that provides the opportunity for a particular inmate to confront the issues that placed in the jail.
Roman Coleman (Matthias Schoenaerts) has been sentenced to twelve years in prison for attacking his partner and leaving them with permanent brain damage. He suffers from not being able to control his anger, which led him to be incarcerated. Coleman fears release from prison, which would force him to face the responsibilities he has upon re-entering society. Then the opportunity arrives to join a program that trains mustangs on the verge of being sold at auctions.
Through the process of this rehabilitation, Roman meets his match in training the mustang that has been assigned to him. All of the mustangs in the program come from the wild and require training, but Roman gets the particular horse that needs some extra work, much like himself. They mirror each other well in their progression of being “wild” and becoming what society deems to be acceptable in their own ways. It serves as a meditation on masculinity and how it ties to the issues Roman faces where he cannot control himself when situations get overwhelming for him and he lashes out physically. Others feel the brunt of that pain when he delivers it but now he receives that force from the very mustang he must train.
I would say that I enjoy the ideas this film explores on the macro level but it didn’t measure up when looking a bit deeper. Matthias Schoenaerts gives a good performance as Roman, not the easiest character to take on. An underlying layer of vulnerability and anger runs through Roman and Schoenaerts maintains that balance. The best performance came from Bruce Dernm as he portrays Myles, the coordinator of the mustang program. Such an underappreciated and cranky old man role suits the actor so well, where he can bark orders to the men he supervises but still has a strong emotional connection with the animals. It works out so well in Nebraska and The Peanut Butter Falcon, but with this, it comes in a more caring manner. Myles comes down hard on Roman because he wants him to connect with the mustang and get past the blind rage that landed him in prison. I always appreciate a good Bruce Dern appearance and this film gave it to me.
The main issue in the film came from Roman’s character progression throughout the story. The connection with the mustang was evident, but it fell short with allowing me to learn more about Roman himself. Someone with the history he has should have a stronger story especially with the way the film concludes. When reaching the end of the film, it felt like more could be told about Roman for his story to land more effectively. At times it loses sight of the core of the story, which makes it lose focus at what should be the most integral parts of its narrative. The Mustang surely still lands as a fairly good film but missed the opportunity to be transcendent with its story.