Matthias Schoenaerts is the perfect actor to portray Roman, a violent inmate at Nevada State Prison who works with horses in an effort to curb his explosive anger. In the past, Schoenaerts starred in “Bullhead” as a lonely cattle farmer who gets pushed into selling illegal hormones and becomes irredeemably hooked on steroids. His casting may not be a stretch for the “silent angry man” in yet another outing, but he does it so well.
Again and again, Schoenaerts embodies a scary physicality that is somehow sensitive and vulnerable. This film, “The Mustang” by director Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre, is from start to finish very nearly a masterpiece.
Roman is placed repeatedly in solitary. His anger is unquenchable with nowhere to go. His young ex Martha (Gideon Adlon) can’t stand him and asks him to sign divorce papers.
While Roman is on fertilization duty, an ex-rider Myles (Bruce Dern) is intrigued by the smoldering brute, and asks him half-heartedly to try to watch the horses for five minutes without losing his cool. Under the direction of Henry (Jason Mitchell) Roman fails, yelling at the mustang.
In one visceral scene, Roman punches the beautiful animal like a speed bag and the horse promptly beats him to the ground.
After an irate lashing by Myles, Roman is undaunted and asks for a contraband equestrian magazine. A bond slowly forms.
Oddly, the meaty physique and the round brown eyes of Roman resemble the traits of the mustang Marquis, and Roman becomes as if hypnotized.
There have been many “creature kinship” films (including Redford’s classic The Horse Whisperer) but this is by far one of the very best and it is as fate would have it, executively produced by Redford.
This film excels precisely because it does not have an agenda or a stance, simply presenting events as they occur. The story shines in its illuminating and sometimes raging details. We know what Roman is like locked in the stifling plain square of a prison and we know what mustangs feel sequestered in a wooden pen: two animals are revealed inter-connected by their emotions.
While some might be tempted to call the film “The Horse Whisperer” combined with 2014’s “Starred Up,” this narrative is far more subtle and nuanced. In a series of telling quiet scenes “The Mustang” projects one man’s angry life upon a fellow animal and it delivers without manipulation, sap or sentiment.
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