Matthias Schoenaerts stars as a prisoner who forms a bond with a wild horse in The Mustang. Photo courtesy focusfeatures.com

FILM REVIEW: Wild creatures help tame prisoners

Robert Moyes offers up his take on The Mustang, screening at local theatres now

By Robert Moyes

Monday Magazine film reviewer

The Mustang begins almost like a gritty nature documentary, the camera intimately observing a herd of wild mustangs seconds before they’re stampeded into a trap by a swooping helicopter. These magnificent horses are destined for a rural Nevada prison, where they will be “gentled” and trained by inmates then later sold at auction.

Monday film reviewer Robert Moyes

The snorting breaths of the wild horses heard at the beginning of the film are echoed a few minutes later when we meet Roman (Matthias Schoenaerts, Rust and Bone, The Danish Girl). This new inmate, haunted by a violent past and damaged by years of incarceration, much of it in solitary, grunts much more than speaks while being interviewed by the prison’s sympathetic psychologist.

Sent to this prison to participate in state-decreed social rehabilitation via various outdoor programs, Roman is reluctantly shoveling manure when he becomes fascinated by a particularly unruly mustang. He in turn catches the eye of Myles (Bruce Dern), the prison’s irascible horse – and prisoner – trainer, who decides to take a chance on the awkward, emotionally crippled Roman and invites him to join the elite horse-training squad.

Despite the film’s obviousness in having these two wild creatures form a bond, Mustang explores the theme of redemption with honesty and insight and none of the sentimentality that might have turned this into a Hallmark movie.

The gradual reconciliation between Roman and his estranged daughter, happening over several fraught visits, is nicely handled. And the script is similarly deft at sidestepping the clichés common to prison dramas. Life inside is stark and harsh but not luridly brutal, even with one fatal knifing in the exercise yard. (Although you may scratch your head at the ketamine-smuggling subplot by a small crew of prison gang members that is left weirdly unresolved.)

Anchored by several fine performances – especially that of Schoenaerts, but also Dern’s crusty curmudgeon, and the easy-going prisoner-horseman (Jason Mitchell) who befriends Roman – the engaging and poignant Mustang runs a nimble race. And even though it’s fictional, the story was inspired by the successful horse-training programs run at several prisons.

Rating: ***1/2

Stars Matthias Schoenaerts, Bruce Dern

Directed by Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre

COMING SOON:

Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile Zac Efron plays notorious serial killer Ted Bundy, in an edgy biopic that is presented from the perspective of Bundy’s girlfriend, who ended up a tormented survivor.

Ad Astra Brad Pitt goes interplanetary in this sci-fi drama about an engineer who undertakes a remarkable voyage to track down his father (Tommy Lee Jones), who took a one-way ride to Neptune two decades earlier.

All Is True – British A-listers Kenneth Branagh, Judi Dench and Ian McKellen star in a drama about the personal life and struggles of William Shakespeare.

Aladdin – Disney Studios presents a live-action musical version of the classic fantasy tale set in a long-ago Arabian world, with Will Smith as the wisecracking genie. Directed by Guy Ritchie (Sherlock Holmes).

X-Men: Dark Phoenix – Is it worth it having a superpower if the world calls you a mutant? Jennifer Lawrence, Sophie Turner, James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender try to answer that important question.

Late Night – The great Emma Thompson stars as a talk show host, in a Sundance-acclaimed comedy costarring Mindy Kaling, John Lithgow and Hugh Dancy.

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