No segue. Got this trailer more than a few times and have seen the movie’s title pop up in my reviews before.
The story looks like it’s about a downtrodden convict in prison and his family is leaving him left and right. Turns out, he had penchant for taming wild horses and gets involved with the program.
Here’s the cast. Starring, we have Matthias Schoenaerts (RACER/JAILBIRD , BIGGER SPLASH , DANISH GIRL , and the upcoming THE LAUNDROMAT ), Jason Mitchell (SUPERFLY , DETROIT , KEANU , and OUTTA COMPTON ), Bruce Dern (WHITE BOY RICK , HATEFUL 8 , and upcoming films ONCE UPON A TIME HOLLYWOOD  and REMEMBER ME ), Gideon Adlon (BLOCKERS , and the upcoming SKIN IN THE GAME ), and Connie Britton (BEATRIZ AT DINNER  and AMERICAN ULTRA ).
Now for the crew. Directing and co-writing, we have Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre, known for stuff I’ve either never seen or heard of. Clermont-Tonnerre’s partners-in-pen are Mona Fastvold (stuff I’ve either never seen or heard of) and Brock Norman Brock (stuff I’ve either never seen or heard of). One of the producers is Robert Redford, known for OLD MAN (2018). Composing the score is Jed Kurzel, known for OVERLORD (2018), ALIEN: COVENANT (2017), and ASSASSIN’S CREED (2016). The cinematographer is Ruben Impens, known for BEAUTIFUL BOY (2018). Finally, the editor is Géraldine Mangenot, known for stuff I’ve either never seen or heard of.
Overall, this could be good. Schoenaerts looks like he’s got a nuanced performance lined up for us and other such talents like Mitchell, Britton, and Adlon are interesting to see, so color me curious.
This is my honest opinion of: THE MUSTANG
Roman Coleman (Matthias Schoenaerts) is a prison inmate, and has been for the last twelve years. He has a broken relationship with his daughter Martha (Gideon Adlon) and mostly keeps to himself. One day, he’s offered an opportunity to work outside with horses, and after proving that he has gumption for horse training, especially the wildest and most stubborn horse, he’s given a spot in a program that breaks and tames wild mustangs.
Even though the easiest joke that I can make is that this is basically a gritty remake of FREE WILLY (1993), just with a horse instead of a whale, but this movie is good.
Let’s start with the smaller problems. First, and this is a weird one, but Roman’s heavy breathing was really distracting. Perhaps this is a nitpick, but hear me out. At first, I thought it was part of his character. He’s got anger issues, he doesn’t want to talk about his problems to his psychologist (Connie Britton), he continues to show his short fuse for a good chunk of this movie until he learns to take Marcus the horse, so I thought that as the movie progressed, the less we would hear of that breathing. But that didn’t end up being the case. The breathing was there even when he seemed like he was going through his arc of calming down, so I guess that was just a weird sound tic.
My biggest problem with the story is that there wasn’t enough development between Roman and Marcus. Sure, you have that moment where he and the wild horse have a mutually calming first impression of each other, but then it’s mostly just him proving that he has a knack for horse-taming. Even when the pivotal moment comes where he and the horse bond, that’s kind of the only scene. After that, it’s just him opening up, smiling more, struggling with his daughter. Not that these are bad scenes, mind you, but the movie is called “The Mustang.” One would think the titular horse would have a more prominent role. Perhaps you could argue that it’s symbolic in that Roman is the mustang, not Marcus, but… that’s a bit of a cop-out, if you ask me. I just feel like there were more opportunities to show that connection. Have more scenes with him opening up to the horse, talking about what he’s feeling about his situation, his daughter, what put him in jail in the first place, or his feelings about freedom. Or, you know what? I some of that back. Some of that conversation stuff he more owes to his daughter than he does to the horse, so maybe just more scenes of him being quiet and showing a more gentle side of his personality toward the horse and have them bond like that.
Swinging back around to smaller issues, I feel like the subplot involving the asshole cellmate that coerces Roman to get him drugs from the program was just an excuse to remind the audience that this is still a prison movie and that “prison is no fairy-tale world.” Henry (Jason Mitchell) gets shanked and should be a powerful moment where Roman lost arguably his only friend in prison, who never gave up on him and always tried to encourage him, but even his death barely impacts the story. I mean, there’s weight to it, but because we never truly got to know him as a three-dimensional person, his death just feels like a plot point and a needlessly dark moment in a movie that was doing fine without it. Although I do admit that I liked how you can tell how much Roman wants to rush over to his friend and help him, but can’t while the guards are demanding that the inmates get down on the ground, lest he gets shot by a guard. That look of hopelessness was gripping as hell.
Also, during the freeing scene with Roman and Marcus, I’m declaring this the easiest prison to escape from. I mean, no guards, Roman’s literally just kicking the gates apart and tearing them off the bars, this was almost hilarious. It kind of ruins the ending.
But I can’t keep crapping on the movie, as I did say it was good.
Schoenaerts does give a rather great performance. I feel like he really got into the role of a man who is easily triggered, but you can tell that he isn’t proud of who he is. All he seems to really want is to be left alone and not be bothered. It never excuses his more violent outbursts, like when he physically strikes Marcus early on, but you know that he feels horrible about it and starts reading up on them and earns his way back into the program. But not without the threat that if he ever strikes the horse again, he’ll do much harder time.
Speaking of threats, Bruce fucking Dern. This man steals the show like a boss. How does one describe Myles? He’s the kind of guy who would take Kevin Sorbo’s Hercules and play with him like a Stretch Armstrong. That “tough as a barrel of nails” saying is a light breakfast on the level of mere mortals eating just toast. He’s the kind of guy who could get away with a team-up with Paddington for most intense “hard stare.” This man knows how to be scary. Whether he’s threatening Roman, or just instructing during the training process, his voice booms and he makes it clear when someone’s doing something wrong and life-threatening. But on the flip-side, the man isn’t without his humanity. It’s clear that he loves horses and that he does that that edge of seeing the best in people, especially these prison inmates. He’s protective of them all, and is deeply affected if someone dies or one of the horses is threatened. Myles is, without a doubt, my favorite character, and Dern is my favorite actor in this movie.
<<<SPOILERS>>> [ I can also appreciate that this movie isn’t about someone getting free. By the end of the movie, Roman is still in prison. But he seems to have made peace with his daughter… kind of sporadically, as she never came to the horse auction, but I guess you could argue that she was in labor with her child, so I’ll ignore that. ] <<<END SPOILERS>>>
Overall, I like this movie. I have my gripes here and there, but they don’t cripple it much. Just enough to prevent it from being a great movie. The acting is great from Schoenaerts, and especially from Dern, which really elevates the film. I just wish the emotions were pushed a little harder. As is, I recommend this. No need to rush out to see it, but a matinee or discount day would be worth it, I think. I doubt I’ll see it more than once, but it’s definitely worth it at least once.
My honest rating for THE MUSTANG: 4/5
This week’s reviews:
- THE AFTERMATH
- CAPTIVE STATE
- FIVE FEET APART
- WONDER PARK
- THE HUMMINGBIRD PROJECT
- NANCY DREW AND THE HIDDEN STAIRCASE
- NO MANCHES FRIDA 2: PARAÍSO DESTRUIDO
- PLAIRE, AIMER ET COURIR VITE / SORRY ANGEL
- FAITH, HOPE & LOVE
Next week’s reviews: