“What the hell are you doing in there?” shouts Myles (Bruce Dern), to prison convict Roman Coleman (Matthias Schoenaerts) as he opens the gate to a wild stallion’s pen. “Don’t ever go in there. That’s a dangerous animal!” Unrepentant prison convict and caged wild mustang — they’re the setup for this remarkable prison/Western drama about guilt, remorse and forgiveness.
Can “Marquis” — the mustang — and convict Coleman bond? Will Coleman’s grieving daughter forgive her father? Does Coleman forgive himself? For answers, see “The Mustang,” one of the best films I’ve seen this year.
Belgian actor Matthias Schoenaerts is splendid as taciturn and brooding convict Roman Coleman, imprisoned for horrific domestic violence that haunts him and his troubled, pregnant and unforgiving daughter Martha. She’s well-played by Gideon Adlon. Their scenes are among the most compelling in this psychological drama. “What do you know about taking care of anything?” she asks, as they meet in the prison’s visitors’ room. “Don’t come back here,” he says. Bruce Dern is excellent as no-nonsense rancher Myles who directs the prison program in which inmates tame wild horses to be sold at auction. “The hardest thing,” he teaches Colman, “is putting your hand on the horse. Do it. Not only do it, but get it done.”
Others in the strong cast include Jason Mitchell as convict Henry, who also helps Roman as they work with their mustangs. “If you want to control the horse,” Henry says, “first, you’ve got control yourself.” Connie Britton is the prison psychologist who oversees Coleman’s release from solitary confinement. “I am giving you some control,” she says, “and, like it or not, you are going to be in the general population.”
“The Mustang” is a well-made, tightly focused drama, set in a Nevada state prison where silent, remorseful and angry convict Coleman seeks to tame caged wild mustang, Marquis. The metaphor is clear: as the film’s tagline says, “Untamed Souls, Kindred Spirits.” Directed and co-written (with Brock Norman Brock) by first-time filmmaker Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre, “The Mustang” is first-rate storytelling, spare in language and, thanks to cinematographer Ruben Impens, often stunning visually. Subplots about prison drugs and violence add little to the film, but distract for only a short time.
Rated R for language, violence and drugs, “The Mustang” runs 96 minutes. An adult film you’ll want to talk about afterwards.
“Mustang” — wild, untamed horse;
Convict — guilt and remorse;
Prison film — focused tight;
Script — smart and gets it right.