The Mustang (4 stars)

The Mustang

Matthias Schoenaerts is well-employed in the impressive debut of Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre

There is an old, familiar story at the heart of The Mustang as it charts the bond between man and beast. Here, it is a wild mustang who has the power to soothe the savage breast of Nevada convict Roman Coleman (Matthias Schoenaerts). Actor-turned-director Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre's impressive debut feature strives to avoid the inherent sentimentality of the scenario. She handles the material with a soulful delicacy and allows Schoenaerts to fully inhabit one of his best recent roles.

Roman is very much the brooding macho figure, hiding untold pain beneath the intimidating facade he presents to the world. Veteran supervisor Myles (Bruce Dern) is the one who reluctantly allows him entry to a programme in which inmates are given the chance to work with wild mustangs. Roman develops a particular affinity with a newly captured horse that is called Marcus.

Clermont-Tonnerre overemphasises the affinity between the two. Roman responds to the confinement of his cell by punching and kicking the walls in much the same way that Marcus responds to the restrictions of his stable. Both are creatures who crave their freedom.

The Mustang may unfold along predictable lines but the story is grounded in a documentary-like realism that doesn't sugar-coat the dangers of the inmates, or the desperation of their lives. The difficult relationship between Roman and his estranged daughter Martha (Gideon Adlon) is a testimony to the violence in his past and the consequences for those around him.

Cinematographer Ruben Impens (Dirty God, Beautiful Boy) captures a vivid sense of atmosphere within the prison walls and horse auctions and the contrast with the vast desert skies that beckon so invitingly. Schoenaerts's Roman is trapped by his incarceration and the ghosts of his past but in his care for Marcus, he is allowed a glimpse of hope.

General release from Fri 30 Aug.

The Mustang

  • 4 stars
  • 2019
  • France / Belgium
  • 1h 36min
  • 15
  • Directed by: Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre
  • Cast: Matthias Schoenaerts, Jason Mitchell, Bruce Dern
  • UK release: 30 August 2019

Roman (Schoenaerts) is a Nevada convict who’s given a chance to work with wild mustangs, whereupon he bonds with one called Marcus. A predictable enough story, grounded in documentary-like realism that doesn’t downplay the dangers of the prison; Schoenaerts fully inhabits one of his best roles and it’s atmospheric and…