Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre takes the reins with her feature film directorial debut, The Mustang. The Focus Features’ drama stars Matthias Schoenaerts as an incarcerated convict in Nevada, and his journey while participating in a rehabilitation program centered around training wild horses. The film also stars Jason Mitchell, Gideon Adlon, Connie Britton and Bruce Dern. Spoilers after the trailer.
Saddle Up For An Emotional Ride
Following the theme of her 2014 short film, director Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre created another interesting look into the world of prison rehabilitation through animal therapy. De Clermont-Tonnerre spent five years researching for this film by going to multiple prisons before preparing her script and that hard work pays off because The Mustang has a genuine feel to it.
Roman Coleman (Matthias Schoenaerts) has been incarcerated in a Nevada prison for 12 years after committing a violent crime and is given the chance at rehabilitation through Nevada’s Wild Horse Inmate Training Program and The Mustang effectively displays his growth as a character. When we’re introduced to Coleman, we aren’t sure why he’s locked up, but he’s an angry man, he’s been in and out of solitary confinement, he’s refused multiple opportunities to reintegrate back into society, and he’s filled with tension to the point where it seems like he’s about to swing on his psychologist (Connie Barton). Coleman’s doing outdoor maintenance and comes across a caged wild mustang that’s acting unruly and aggressively bashing onto the sides of his cage. Curious Coleman is drawn to the mustang, so rancher Myles (Bruce Dern) gives him an opportunity to join the rehabilitation program.
The wild mustang and Coleman are both angry animals that have been forced to live in cages to be tamed because they’ve been deemed to be too angry for society as a whole. Coleman is a man who has done whatever he can to not reintegrate into society, but once he joins the program, not only does he befriend the mustang, but he also befriends other inmates with his closest friendship being with head horse-trainer Henry (Jason Mitchell). The film creates a fun teacher-mentor relationship between the pair as Coleman learns how to control the horse and better himself. To add to the film’s authenticity, de Clermont-Tonnerre decided to cast actual prisoners who participated in the program and had been released during the filming of the movie.
Outside of the rehabilitation, The Mustang focuses on Coleman’s strained relationship with his daughter Martha (Gideon Adlon) The theme of being free is an ongoing throughout the film and when Martha is introduced in the film, the only reason she’s come to the prison is to have her father sign emancipation papers. This angers Coleman but it’s in her best interest because he can’t take care of her since he’s in prison. Later on, this leads to an emotional moment in the film when the audience finds out why Coleman is incarcerated. Coleman and Martha’s mother got into an argument one night when he smashed her skull into the kitchen sink and caused severe brain damage while a young Martha saw the whole thing. This adds some much needed background to the relationship between the two and helps the audience understand why Coleman doesn’t want to be reintegrated back into society.
The passion that Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre put into this project extends to the production aspects behind the scenes. Not only did she direct The Mustang but she was also a writer on the project. For a redemption story, this film has typical prison film cliches like stabbings, drug use and an interesting take on a yard fight that you will not see coming. With an interesting choice of shots, de Clermont-Tonnerre knows how to make her film look interesting enough and keep things moving. There are a few moments where the film does slow down, but overall, it’s a fluid experience.
Matthias Schoenaerts brought his A-game with his portrayal of Ronald Coleman. Schoenaerts has this demeanor and plays the role ambiguous enough that you can never get a clear read on his motives and that adds an additional layer of interest onto the film. It will be interesting to see if he gets any nominations when award season gets here. Jason Mitchell brings the personality into the film that creates a solid balance with Coleman’s stoicness and seriousness. If the film would’ve expanded on the relationship between the two then it would’ve conveyed Coleman’s human side more effectively.
The Mustang is an emotional ride that shows what rehabilitation can do for prisoners. In a positive way, the film serves as a Public Service Announcement for Wild Horse and Burro programs found in select US prisons. Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre finds a unique way to present a prison film on the big screen while making the public aware of what life is like for those that are locked up. There’s a powerful scene where violent offenders discuss how long it took them to react to whatever caused them to be incarcerated and in most cases it was just a matter of seconds. Just seconds – seconds – until their lives and their victims’ lives were forever impacted. For a film about a man and his horse, de Clermont-Tonnerre was the perfect person to tell this story and Schoenaerts was the right person to portray the lead. If The Mustang is currently playing at a theater near you, then give this one a viewing.
[All Mames Wey]
The Mustang was released in theaters March 29, 2019.