The Mustang

Matthias Schoenaerts is no Horse Whisperer
Verdict: 
7/10 - With a great performance from Matthias Schoenaerts, The Mustang builds to a touching conclusion.
Release Date: 
Friday, August 30, 2019
Written by: 

The Mustang follows a convict who finds his calling in a rehabilitation therapy programme centred around the training of wild horses.

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Over the course of his career, Matthias Schoenaerts has built up a reputation for taking on challenging characters.

For his latest performance, the Belgian actor once again proves his range, appearing as violent convict Roman Coleman in filmmaker Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre's The Mustang.

Set in a remote Nevada jail, the narrative kicks off with an apprehensive Roman speaking to prison psychologist (Connie Britton) about his fiery temper and violent tendencies.

The psychologist notes his resistance to becoming reintegrated into society and suggests he be placed in the outdoor maintenance team. But after rancher Myles (Bruce Dern) realises Roman is intrigued by the behaviour of the horses kept at the institution, he demands he joins a rehabilitation programme in which inmates learn how to train wild mustangs over a five-week period before they are sold at auction.

Despite his struggles with communication, Roman is captivated by one "particularly crazed" mustang, who he names Marquis, and sets about training him with the help of fellow prisoner Henry (Jason Mitchell).

Controlling wild horses is no easy task, and in one particularly violent scene, Roman loses his cool and lashes out at Marquis, though ends up learning his actions are only hurting himself. Be warned there is one moment of animal cruelty in The Mustang which may upset some viewers.

Clermont-Tonnerre does a nice job of slowly displaying the growing connection between the prisoner and the horse via the use of close-ups and low-angle shots, and while there is an obvious parallel made between the taming of Marquis and the personal growth of Roman, the director conveys it in such a way that it generates empathy rather than irritation.

An important side plot involving Henry and strung-out inmate Dan (Josh Stewart) touches on America's drug crisis, while a visit from Roman's teenage daughter Martha (Gideon Adlon) helps to unravel some of his background and delves into some of the challenges family members of prisoners are faced with.

Dern is perfectly cast as the cowboy-esque Myles and his no-nonsense approach really helps the narrative to gallop along, though it would have seen useful for Britton to have appeared more often in order to unpack some of Roman's psychological issues.

However, The Mustang is truly a vehicle for Schoenaerts's talents, and the 41-year-old does a great job at immersing himself in the role.

Unrecognisable with a shaved head and tattoos, Schoenaerts allows the character to slowly open up as part of his rehabilitation, while simultaneously showing that his primal spirit may never be fully snuffed out.

Yes, parts of the plot verge on formulaic, but with smart performances, references to a real-life wild horse inmate programme, and striking cinematography by Ruben Impens, The Mustang builds to a well-paced and touching conclusion.

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