The Mustang (15)

Drama (2019)
97mins Fr/Bel

Starring: Bruce Dern, Jason Mitchell, Matthias Schoenaerts
Director: Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre
Writer(s): Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre, Brock Norman Brock, Mona Fastvold
Listings: London | Rest of UK and Ireland

Roman Coleman has a painfully short fuse and during one heated argument with his partner he lashes out, leaving her permanently brain damaged. He is sentenced to life behind bars until he can be reintegrated into society. After 12 years behind bars and myriad failed attempts to curb Roman's temper, he takes part in a rehabilitation programme run by an elderly horse lover called Myles. For five weeks, Roman must train a wild mustang so the animal can be sold at auction.

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LondonNet Film Review
The Mustang (15)

In Shakespeare's history play Henry V, a nameless boy memorably debates whether "men of few words are the best men". The tormented central character in The Mustang - a hulking prison inmate with a shaved head and tattoos - would seem to disprove the assertion. Rendered mute for long stretches by the rage that percolates inside him, Roman Coleman (Matthias Schoenaerts) is a glowering brute, who is behind bars for repeatedly hitting his wife's head against a kitchen sink during an argument. He has spent 12 years at the mercy of the Department of Corrections and has yet to convince the prison's therapist (Connie Britton) that he could be safely reintegrated into the outside world. "I'm not good with people," he growls...

The Mustang. Copyright: Focus Features/Universal Pictures. Caption: Matthias Schoenaerts as Roman Coleman in The Mustang, directed by Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre. Photo: Tara Violet Niami. All Rights Reserved.Director Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre and co-writers Mona Fastvold and Brock Norman Brock face the seemingly impossible task of engineering Roman's redemption while their physically imposing protagonist remains largely silent and unsympathetic. A powerhouse performance from Belgian actor Schoenaerts and stunning cinematography courtesy of Ruben Impens gradually cast their spell as the gossamer-thin story reveals facets of regret and despair in the thuggish inmate's complex personality. De Clermont-Tonnerre's contemplative drama seeks narrative inspiration from a real-life training programme, which rehabilitates prisoners by allowing them to work with wild mustangs until the animals can be adopted by the public.

For five weeks, Roman curbs his volcanic temper by following the instructions of elderly programme director Myles (Bruce Dern) to gain the trust of one particularly unpredictable animal. Fellow inmate Henry (Jason Mitchell), who is involved with trafficking ketamine around prison, shares his knowledge of horses and allows Roman to bond with his steed, christened Marquis (the inmate pronounces it Marcus). The mustang soothes Roman's inner rage and helps the prisoner to build meaningful relationships with other men in the programme. A tragic turn of events involving Roman's uncouth cellmate (Josh Stewart) jeopardises his good work in the saddle and his plans to rebuild the trust of his pregnant daughter (Gideon Adlon).

Executive produced by Robert Redford, The Mustang is a surprisingly effective character study, which draws obvious parallels between the untamed volatility of Roman and his four-legged ward, emphasised by a single scene of unexpected and shocking cruelty. Towering above many of his human co-stars, Schoenaerts tightly coils his character's anguish and chips away at the imposing facade until an emotional dam breaks in the visitors' room. Confident and sensitive screenwriting eschews sentimentality against a stunning canvas of the rugged Nevada wilderness. There is no forgiveness for Roman's horrific transgressions - he destroyed more than one life that day in the choking red mist - but atonement might be earned over time. Roman certainly has plenty of that.

- Kim Hu

The Mustang. Copyright: Focus Features/Universal Pictures. Caption: Matthias Schoenaerts as Roman Coleman in The Mustang, directed by Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre. Photo: Tara Violet Niami. All Rights Reserved.

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