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With: Matthias Schoenaerts, Jason Mitchell, Gideon Adlon, Connie Britton, Bruce Dern, Josh Stewart
Written by: Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre, Mona Fastvold, Brock Norman Brock
Directed by: Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre
MPAA Rating: R for language, some violence and drug content
Running Time: 96
Date: 03/22/2019

The Mustang (2019)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Dark Horse

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

This horse drama doesn't break any new ground, but it's a simple, soulful movie, a pared-down, poetic take on a classical story, told gently, wherein all the pieces fit together with beauty and grace.

In The Mustang, violent convict Roman Coleman (Matthias Schoenaerts) is transferred to a new prison, where the staff psychologist (Connie Britton) recommends him for a job working outdoors, rather than spending a stint in solitary. He's nonplussed to discover that he'll be picking up horse manure, but the nearby wild mustangs — caught and subsequently tamed by prisoners to be later put up for auction — mesmerize him, especially one particularly spirited one.

Head trainer Myles (Bruce Dern) spots Roman and puts him in a pen with the horse. With help from fellow inmate Henry (Jason Mitchell), and despite losing his temper a few times, Roman eventually forms a bond with the animal. Trouble comes when he finds the strength to re-connect with his pregnant daughter (Gideon Adlon) and his cellmate (Josh Stewart) blackmails him into stealing medication from the animals facility. Can Roman remain focused enough to successfully show his horse at the auction?

Actress Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre (The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec), makes her feature directing debut with The Mustang, based on a real program that exists in certain states, and reportedly has a strong track record in rehabilitating prisoners. The movie provides a handful of written notes at the beginning and ending, thereby leaving the movie itself free to avoid messages, and concentrating instead on its ebb and flow.

It has the feel of a familiar old Western, with some vaguely underdeveloped minor elements, but with new life breathed into it. Light is used vividly, especially beaming through windows into the tiny prison cells. The exterior shots are beautifully sun-dappled, but also chilly, perfectly capturing the juxtaposition between fury and tranquility, in both human and horse.

Schoenaerts is part of what makes the movie work so well, with his fearsome frame, unpredictable and explosive, and soft, expressive eyes. Even though he commits a scene of shocking violence against the animal, it's possible to eventually forgive him. Best of all is Dern, a cranky old-timer straight from a John Wayne movie, but with his heart in the right place.

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