The Mustang premiered at Sundance in January and was immediately picked up for wider distribution. It’s easy to see why. This is a moving account of a long-term convict, jailed for an unspeakably violent crime, who finds redemption through his attempts to tame a wild horse. It is a powerful, smouldering tale, with a strong central message – that those who break the law need to be given every opportunity to attone for their crimes.
Matthias Schoenaerts stars as the improbably named Roman Coleman, currently serving his twelfth year for a savage assault on his former wife, and adamant that he does not want to be reintegrated into the outside world. Whilst working on a maintenance programme, he meets up with Myles (Bruce Dern), a cantankerous old rancher who runs a rehibilitation programme, encouraging convicts to work alongside wild mustangs in an attempt to raise funds and save at least some of them from being culled.
At first Roman struggles to make headway with the stallion he has named Marquis, but -as he slowly begins to progress – so he is able to take stock of his life and think about repairing the divide between himself and his pregnant daughter, Martha (Gideon Adlon).
Schoenaerts delivers a compelling performance in the lead role, a man who has turned himself into a simmering pressure cooker of anger and self-disgust. Writer-director Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre is sure-footed enough to guide this story through the potential pitfalls. Yes, the symbolism is pretty obvious: both man and horse are creatures that are possessed by their own inner rage; both need to be ‘broken’ if they are to exist in the world. And yet The Mustang has none of the obvious ‘feelgood’ tropes that such stories often depend upon – indeed, I find myself pleasantly surprised by its steadfast refusal to entertain easy answers. Add to this Ruben Imens’ magnificent location photography and Jed Kurzel’s atmospheric score, and you have a film that lingers in the memory long after the credits have rolled.
The fact that the story is based on a genuine prison rehabilitation programme only serves to strengthen its appeal.