CREDIT: Focus Features

Starring: Matthias Schoenaerts, Jason Mitchell, Gideon Adlon, Connie Britton, Bruce Dern

Director: Laure de Clermont-Tennerre

Running Time: 96 Minutes

Rating: R for Horse-on-Human and Human-on-Horse Violence and Prison Profanity

Release Date: March 15, 2019 (Limited)

Is it possible to forgive yourself and move forward from the worst, most destructive mistake you’ve ever made in your life? That’s the question at the heart of The Mustang, the feature directorial debut of French actress Laure de Clermont-Tennerre. Roman Coleman (Matthias Schoenarts) is in prison for assaulting his wife, but you don’t know that’s his crime until about halfway through, because he’s so tightly coiled that he barely conveys any information vocally beyond acknowledging people’s presence and asking them to go away. You get the sense that he wasn’t always this way, or at least that it wasn’t always this extreme. A key scene is a group therapy session in which the therapist (Connie Britton) asks Roman and the other convicts, “How long from the thought of the crime to the actual crime?” For most of them it was a matter of seconds, a moment of passion that instantly, dramatically altered their lives and self-perception.

For Roman, he cannot see a way back to himself or a version of his life in which he could ever again be comfortable spending time with his pregnant teenage daughter (Gideon Adlon). But despite the personal hell he is stuck in, a chance for redemption comes through via, of all things, a program for convicts to break and train wild horses (run by a no-nonsense Bruce Dern, charming in a crotchety sort of way). You don’t have to think too deeply to see the symbolism of Roman as a broken animal and to know that’s how they form such an empathetic bond after a violently unpromising introduction (Roman pounds the horse’s chest out of frustration in an early training session). Thankfully, De Clermont-Tennerre wisely underplays just about every moment, allowing Schoenaerts’ quiet intensity to do its job and speak every message that needs to be conveyed. This is a movie about hope emerging from a profoundly hopeless situation. That always has currency in cinema, and life itself.

The Mustang is Recommended If You Like: The Rider but with a lot more quietly intense masculinity with hidden sensitivity, The Shawshank Redemption

Grade: 4 out of 5 Wild Horses

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