The Mustang Review: Schoenaerts is a standout in a film about horses and redemption
Touching on themes on masculinity and redemption, The Mustang highlights a standout performance from Matthias Schoenaerts as well as a deep connection between man and animal.
The film follows a violent convict, Roman Coleman (Schoenaerts) as he is given a chance to join the prison’s rehabilitation program that involves training wild Mustangs. Roman has incredibly violent behavior and a stone-cold exterior that doesn’t allow any emotion to show. However, through training with an unbroken horse, Roman begins to open up about his past and try to make a better future with his resentful daughter Martha (Gideon Adlon).
While the story hits familiar beats that viewers would expect going into this kind of movie, especially between Roman and his mustang, Marquise, the story has enough heartfelt moments to draw viewers in to feel what Roman is feeling. Schoenaerts absolutely steals the show with a subtle, but powerful performance that captures the film’s slow-building emotion. Roman is incredibly reserved with him saying very few words when we initially meet him, but it’s all growing towards an out-pour of emotion that his overtly masculine exterior. All of this leads to a finale with both his daughter and Marquise that I find myself still thinking about and finding it to be both relieving and heartbreaking.
Outside of Roman, though, it’s tough to say that any of the other characters will leave much of an impact on you. While there’re fine performances from Aldon, Jason Mitchell, Bruce Dern, Connie Britton, and Josh Stewart, there’s never enough depth given to them for me to understand them or care for them. Even the side stories that are involved with them feel lackluster and there are even some characters that feel crammed into Roman’s story.
There’s honestly more depth given to the program that’s actually used in certain states and it felt like a bit of an eye-opener about a breed of horse that’s generally considered to be a symbol of the American West. Writer/director Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre does a solid job showcasing the importance of programs like this and the struggles they go through to stay afloat. She includes some great scenes that highlight the training inmates have, the importance of the horses staying safe, and the connection these inmates build with their horses. This leads to some touching moments that tug at its viewers heart-strings.
It’s tough to say that without Schoenaerts basically stealing the show, if The Mustang would’ve left the same impact on me. However, there’s enough heart put into it to make it an interesting watch and give light to a program that’s not often known about.