"...marvelous and life affirming..."

A Sensitive and Humanistic Prison Drama/Western

(041519) There have been quite a few classic horse films including Black Beauty (1946), The Black Stallion (1979), The Horse Whisperer (1998), and Seabiscuit (2003). In recent years, Hollywood has been on a bit of a horse tangent, and we have been treated to such excellent horse themed films as The Rider (2018), Lean on Pete (2018), and now The Mustang (2019), which might rank with the very best horse themed films. Don’t worry I won’t saddle you with any horse puns.

In the film’s opening we are told that there are approximately 100,000 wild mustangs in the wild, and the government can’t afford to keep taking care of all them, so most are destined for early deaths. At least some of them are trained and kept to serve the needs of the police force which sets up the basic premise of the film.

The Mustang (not to be confused with the 2005 foreign language film called Mustang) is a sensitive and humanistic prison drama/Western about about the deep love between a savage, hardened prisoner and a feral horse, but not in any illegal way. You get the main idea.

The plot is minimal, simple and straightforward, but the movie is elevated immeasurably by the sure footed direction of newcomer Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre and an able bodied cast of little unknown but terrific actors. Although the film does not break many rules, it ends up packing an unexpectedly powerful emotional wallop, if the audience is willing to ride it out.

Roman Coleman (the Flemish actor Matthias Schoenaerts plays him in a memorable, potentially star making performance) is serving a long incarceration stretch because he tried to murder his wife and this left her brain damaged (in a therapy session he admits that making this life destroying decision took mere seconds). Because of his hair trigger temper, Roman spends much of his time in solitary, and he is so deeply disturbed that is unclear whether can ever rejoin society.

He tries a little to express his deeply buried feelings to the prison therapist (played by the Nashville TV show’s Connie Britton), but he is a complete misanthrope cut off from most of humanity with little hope for the future.

His pregnant daughter (played by the strikingly photographed Gideon Adlon of Blockers) occasionally visits him, but they rarely see eye to eye. She resents him which is understandable since he has not exactly been father of the year. It’s not clear whether she has any feeling for him left or if she is just stringing him along because she wants permission to sell his house so she can afford to move away with her future baby’s daddy.

Then something happens which actually gives Roman something to look forward to. Roman is given the opportunity to prove himself in a difficult assignment. He is recruited in a horse training program by Myles, a hardnosed /no nonsense head trainer (played by a perfectly cast Bruce Dern), and he is given the opportunity to tame the most angry, defiant and anti-social horse (the animal is basically the horse equivalent of Roman) so that the animal can avoid death and become a police horse. This gives Roman a reason to live on.

Roman and the horse eventually grow to trust each other, and a genuine friendship develops between them. An emotional flare up by Roman jeopardizes the whole project, but he eventually gets back on track to redemption. Tension mounts as the pressure builds, and Roman has only a few weeks to make his horse tame enough to participate in a public exhibition .To reveal more would spoil the film.

Although The Mustang is somewhat predictable at times, the film works beautifully overall, and it somehow ends up as being much greater than its parts. It cast a spell on me and built in intensity and by the end I was hooked.

The Mustang is only playing at a few theatres on the North side so far. Although the film gets a bit brutal at times there is no reason this film couldn’t have a successful wide release. Unfortunately, it has gotten to the point that very few non franchise films made for intelligent adults without stars can get decent theatrical distribution.

But this is film so marvelous and life affirming that is worth taking a special trip to see it. The nature of the film with its many beautiful long, panoramic shots of the Western terrain practically screams out to be seen on the big screen.

Directed by:  Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre
Written by:  Screenplay by Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre, Mona Fastvold and Brock Norman Brock
Starring:   Matthias Schoenaerts, Jason Mitchell, Bruce Dern
Released:  031519
Length:  96 minutes
Rating:   Rated  R for language, some violence and drug content

For more writings by Vittorio Carli go to
and plus look for his recent book Tape Worm Salad with Olive Oil for Extra Flavor

Also SEE Vittorio Carli’s spoken word/poetry features on Saturday, April 27, 2019 at 8 PM – 11 PM at Heirloom Books at 6239 N. Clark St., Chicago, Illinois 60660.

And at Phyllis’s Musical Inn at 1800 W. Division on May 8

And Paul Ryan’s Show at the Uptown Arts Center at 941 W. Lawrence Center on Friday, May 17 where he will recite film related poetry.

MUSTANG ©  2019 Canal+ Pictures
Review © 2019 Alternate Reality, Inc.