Wild Mustang horses are rounded up each year to control the almost 100,000 feral Mustang population in the western United States. A small number of these Mustangs are given to prisons for the inmates to break, tame, and auction off, with the proceeds paying for the program.
Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre, a French actress, producer, writer, and director, learned about this program – studied the program for years with help from the Sundance Screenwriters Lab – and co-wrote The Mustang script. The Mustang is an excellent 96-minute drama (in English) about taming the wild beast, personal discovery and second chances.
Roman Coleman (Matthias Schoenaerts), a violent offender, is being reintegrated into the general prison population at the Nevada State Prison after spending years in solitary. “I’m not cool with people,” says Roman. Therefore, prison Psychologist (Connie Britten) places him in the outdoor maintenance program, which in this prison means shoveling horse manure in the Horse Program.
Myles (Bruce Dern), boss of the Horse Program, puts Roman in the program and gives him a wild mustang to train. It seems like an obvious situation – tame the wild horse as you tame the wild horse within you – but it works. Watching Roman struggle with the horse, with his desire to make a connection with the horse, with his anger, his daughter, and his cellmate, all blend well to create a superb drama.
Belgian Matthias Schoenaerts’ most recent US film role was playing Uncle Vanya in Red Sparrow. He is excellent as Roman Coleman in The Mustang. Dialogue is almost secondary. Watching Roman try to control his emotions and his angry make The Mustang a powerful movie. His meetings with his daughter Martha (Gideon Adlon, Blockers) become intense with pent up anger and regret coming from both.
The scenes of prison life with the intimidation, contraband, and for some reason, easy access to drugs, border on stereotypic. These scenes are not too gross & violent, but they get in the way of the primary purpose of the story. The prison life scenes add some tension and more sadness. However, the movie would be just as complete without the typical prison scenes.
Taming the wild Mustang and trying to get control of one’s emotions is an excellent character study. The premise makes for a first-class dramatic movie. It is prison, and you do leave a little sadder at the end, and emotionally drained.