Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net by: Harvey Karten
Director: Laure De Clermont-Tonnerre
Screenwriter: Laure De Clermont-Tonnerre, Mona Fastvold, Brock Norman Brock
Cast: Matthias Schoenaerts, Jason Mitchell, Bruce Dern, Gideon Adlon, Connie Britton
Screened at: Digital Arts, NYC, 2/4/19
Opens: March 15, 2019
In Frank Loesser’s musical “Guys and Dolls,” Nicely sings “Future for Tinhorns,” which opens “I got the horse right here/The Name is Paul Revere/And here’s a guy that says/That the weather’s clear/ Can do, Can do.” Laure De Clermont-Tonnerre’s movie “The Mustang” has to do obviously with horses, but the “can do” in this case rides on whether a particular convict in a North Nevada penitentiary can succeed in breaking a particularly fearsome wild mustang.
“The Mustang” directed by de Clermont-Tonnerre—whose familiarity with prisons led her to make “Rabbit” which finds a female prisoner entrusted with the care of a small animal—now broadens her sphere. No longer dealing with females who need to connect with animals for their therapy, she turns her attention to a detention center holding violent criminals. Though too many of our prisons do nothing to deserve the euphemism “correctional institution,” this Nevada center connects with a program of the Federal Department of Land Management. Our government believes that wild horses cannot continue to roam the West in unlimited numbers. They multiply, doubling their numbers every four years. Allegedly there is not enough foliage or even water to support them, therefore they are culled to allow for healthy animals. Or that’s our government’s story. However the reasons for the roundups are not revealed in this film, making the audience wonder how much is simply a desire for the government to make money auctioning them off. In this case, the horses are expected to be sold at auction if and when they are domesticated by prisoners—who in turn, we hope, will become changed people with their violent urges “corrected.”
Belgian actor Matthias Schoenaerts is at the center of the action as Roman Coleman, head shaved, in the Nevada Correctional Institution for a violent crime that is revealed later when his pregnant daughter Martha (Gideon Adlan) visits him, demanding that he turn over for sale the home that she shares with him. With a demeanor that might make audiences confuse him with Dwayne Johnson, Schoenaerts opens the dialogue on a scene with the prison psychologist and anger-management specialist (Connie Britton), whose favorite question is “How much time passed between your thinking of doing a crime and actually doing it?” (Seconds, is the typical answer; a fraction of a second in one case.)
Ruben Impens’s lenses reveal a fantastic creation of an actual roundup with long takes and closeups as helicopters maneuver a gathering of mustangs. They are then locked up in tight quarters, slamming against the walls, an apt metaphor for the appalling condition of the human prisoners Coleman is not a big talker, preferring to remain in solitary because he is “not good with people.” He begins to open up when assigned by Myles (Bruce Dern) to a program of training wild horses. .
Myles assigns Coleman to break one crazy mustang, believing that Coleman has some affinity for the animal. With the help of Henry (Jason Mitchell), a fellow inmate who appears to love the outdoor work he’s doing, Coleman goes step by step, leading the horse this way and that, until human and animal develop a bond. Having read an article in an equestrian magazine dealing with an 18th century marquis, he names the animal Marquis. Coleman has come a ways since the violent crime he committed twelve years previous, though while first training Marquis, he is so frustrated with the lack of response that he punches the animal so hard that Marquis is on the ground—knocked out—to Myles’ fury.
In addition to Schoenaerts’s terrific performance—we don’t know to what extent he is involved with riding the horse and falling from him and where the stunt people come in—we in the audience become enlightened further to the terrible conditions of American prisons. The cells are small. Coleman shares a cell with a toilet, no cover, and no door to afford a minimum of privacy. We long to show the appropriate authorities in our government the movie “Where To Invade Next, which illustrates Norway’s penitentiaries which critics trash as being too “luxurious,” where each inmate has an apartment with a stove and knives. Yet predictably, Norway has among the lowest rates of recidivism anywhere. We are also privy to the horrendous way our government rounds up “excess” wild horses, ultimately to be auctioned off. Some are allegedly given to the border patrol, others will wind up in Canadian or Mexican slaughterhouses.
As a critic with Variety magazine has stated, the picture is only partly about a convict who becomes a horse whisperer but is more about a horse that is a convict whisperer.
96 minutes. © 2019 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
Story – B
Acting – B+
Technical – B+
Overall – B+