Movie Review: ‘The Mustang’ is a Quietly Beautiful Tale of a Convict Finding Redemption Through Horse Training

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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

This Is a Movie Review: ‘Nostalgia’ Makes Some Obvious, Occasionally Affecting Points About Nostalgia

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CREDIT: Bleecker Street

This review was originally posted on News Cult in February 2018.

Starring: Jon Hamm, Catherine Keener, John Ortiz, Ellen Burstyn, Bruce Dern, James LeGros, Nick Offerman, Amber Tamblyn, Patton Oswalt, Annalise Basso, Mikey Madison

Director: Mark Pellington

Running Time: 114 Minutes

Rating: R for Language Apparently, But It Should Otherwise Be Rated PG

Release Date: February 16, 2018 (Limited)

Nostalgia, the 2018 film directed by Mark Pellington, would like you to know that nostalgia, the sentimality for the past, is a feeling that exists and that people experience. It does not treat this as some big revelation, as this is a common human emotion and the film does not pretend otherwise. But it is so simplistic and obvious, but also matter-of-factly profound, in its explication of the definition that there is this weird mix of pretension and lack of ambition. Mostly, Nostalgia glides along in a quiet, unfussy groove that is occasionally enlivened by tragedy and committed performances.

This is one of those anthology-style, “we’re all connected” movies with multiple discrete-but-actually-closely-connected(-at-least-thematically) storylines. Instead of cross-cutting between each vignette and having them dance around each other, they take their turns and then hand the ball (one time quite literally) off to the next one, with at least one shared character per section. At first it looks like Nostalgia will follow the travails of an insurance agent (John Ortiz) and the people he encounters. That’s a justifiable enough premise, but the execution is strikingly mundane.

The film eventually shakes out instead to more broadly be a series of sketches of people dealing with loss and holding on to and/or letting go of sentimental objects, which is even more nondescript than the insurance agent setup, but there are some dynamic moments. In particular, there is the scene with Ellen Burstyn as a widow selling her late husband’s autographed baseball to a professional collector (Jon Hamm). His appraisal delivers exactly the sort of human touch you want when parting with an item with such high monetary and emotional value. Hamm’s entire section, in which he and his sister (Catherine Keener) are hit with a great loss in the midst of cleaning out their father’s old stuff, is filled with understated power. Its setup is just as lightweight as the other storylines, but it delivers enough poignancy to make Nostalgia just worthwhile enough.

Nostalgia is Recommended If You Like: Jon Hamm swooping in to save the day, Emotional gut punches

Grade: 2.5 out of 5 Verified Ted Williams Signatures