With all of the numbers we see every day about prison, rehabilitation, and recidivism, the programs that are working within our system is very often overlooked. From taking care of animals to tending to the land where in some cases the food grown is used in the cafeterias, there are quite a few instances where learning a vocation has helped integrate former offenders back into the outside world. In seven states, horse training is one of these programs as wild mustangs are corralled and brought to the facilities to tame and then sell at auction where the funds are put back into the community itself. It is one of these programs that lies at the center of writer/director Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre’s “The Mustang”.
Matthias Schoenaerts plays Roman (actually his last name), a man serving time for a violent crime over a decade ago. Leaving behind a young daughter who is now in her late teens and expecting her first child, he prefers to be in solitary but is being reintroduced to the general population. As his prison psychologist (Connie Britton) interviews him, she decides that working out in the pasture where the horses are being trained is the best option for him. While there, he is given the chance to stop shoveling manure and start working with the animals by the head trainer, Myles (Bruce Dern). Given the worst and most untamable of the bunch (much like himself), man and animal must learn to co-exist if either of them are going to work themselves out of their respective situations.
This film is a mixed bag for me. This is definitely not the best film I will see this year, but it is far (and I do mean FAR) from the worst that I will take in. It definitely has the indie film feel and uses every penny of its budget in what is presented. Gritty and realistic, this film pulls no punches (in some spots, literally) to tell its tale whether it is of redemption, rehabilitation, or the consequences of one’s actions on every level. Clermont-Tonnerre’s eye for detail is impressive here and even subtle at times, especially where I noticed a particular focus on Roman’s aggressive breathing that matches that of Marcus (actually spelled Marquis, which he names the horse after reading the story of a famous horse trainer while in solitary), becoming more labored as their relationship does and calms and takes less of the soundtrack as they become closer to understanding each other.
On the flip side of that proverbial coin, there is a lot of story here that is crammed into just over an hour and a half. With all of the subplots (the relationship with his daughter, gang activity, the other trainers and how they deal with their own issues), it can get disorienting from time to time. Luckily, there is a payoff all around even though the end shot takes a blatant shot at the heart strings that only slightly downgraded it for me. “The Mustang” is still worth a watch, and although it won’t be one that people will talk about for generations, it is one that is better than it has to be.