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Cottonwood Heights Journal

Dan's Review: "The Mustang" an emotionally powerful experience

Mar 29, 2019 10:54AM ● By Dan Metcalf

Matthias Schoenaerts in The Mustang - © 2019 Focus Features.

The Mustang (Focus Features)

Rated R for language, some violence, and drug content.

Starring Matthias Schoenaerts, Jason Mitchell, Gideon Adlon, Connie Britton, Bruce Dern, Josh Stewart, Thomas Smittle, Keith Johnson, Noel Gugliemi.

Written by Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre, Mona Fastvold, and Brock Norman Brock.

Directed by Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre.



The Russian author/philosopher Fyodor Dostoevsky is often attributed to the quote “The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons.” Some compare incarceration to treating humans as animals, which is one of the more obvious themes of The Mustang, a new film from French actor/filmmaker Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre.

The story centers around the Wild Horse Inmate Program, which allows prison inmates to “break” (train) wild horses. Roman (Matthias Schoenaerts) is a career criminal with a violent temper sent to a Nevada facility after a long stint in solitary confinement. Unable to relate to people, prison psychologist (Connie Britton) gets him an assignment cleaning stables in the wild horse facility. Roman is drawn to a particularly nasty mustang being kept in its own solitary confinement. Eventually, program director Myles (Bruce Dern) sees the connection and allows Roman into the training program. After initial frustration and a few setbacks, Roman and the horse (he names Marcus) learn to control themselves together. Meanwhile, Roman has to deal with a prison gang leader (Josh Stewart) who blackmails him into getting horse narcotics by threatening his estranged and pregnant daughter Martha (Gideon Adlon) with gang contacts on the outside. He also becomes friends with Henry (Jason Mitchell) another inmate in the program. Eventually, Roman and Marcus train until the horse comes up for auction. Things don’t go as planned and Roman has to make a decision about his future with his daughter and the freedom of the horse.

The Mustang is a wonderful film complemented by a powerful performance from Schoenaerts, who convincingly portrays a wide range of emotions, including rage, regret, contrition, and love. There is one scene in particular that is heart-wrenching and beautiful, as the man and horse make a bond that is truly authentic. There are other moments that stir deep emotions, including one in which another inmate named Tom (played by Thomas Smittle, an actual former wild horse program inmate, and current wild horse advocate) says goodbye to his animal after the auction. It’s moments like this that distinguish pretend “acting” from something more genuine.

The Mustang isn’t a perfect movie, sometimes falling into prison clichés and a few loose ends in the narrative, but it’s ultimately a very good experience that sheds a little light on humanity, our relationships with each other and our connection with nature.


"The Mustang" Trailer