Credited as a 2019 American-French-Belgian production, the film’s end credits list 2017 as the year of production. Regardless, THE MUSTANG is a pretty solid dramatic film and a textbook example of how following formula can still work to create an excellent film.
THE MUSTANG is basically a film about a boy and his horsie which in this case is really about a wild horsie and a wild boy. As these stories go, the wild can never be tamed and has to be set free. The horse teaches the boy in his case a man or rather tames him as he tames the horse and as expected the horse is awarded his freedom.
The film begins with the rounding up of wild horses in the U.S.’s west. The segment emphasizes the open spaces and the wild animals having their freedom taken away. The scene is contrasted by a prison interview in establishing the character of the film’s protagonist. The man is an unrepentant and violent convict named Coleman Roman (played by Belgium actor Matthias Schoenaerts). In an interview with his worker, he loses it while claiming the understatement that he has a problem of not getting along with people when asked whether he values his freedom. He is reluctantly and accidentally put into a program (called the wild horse inmates program in some states in the U.S.) where convicts train and tame wild horses to be later auctioned. The man in charge of the program is Myles (Bruce Dern) a cynical but not necessarily a good man. Myles knows and loves horses.
The serious nature of the film’s subject does not mean the film is without humour. When Roman has a surprise visit from a young woman, he sits at the wrong table with another young lady. A plaque of Myles reads: “If my horse doesn’t like you, I won’t either”.
The film benefits immensely from two outstanding Academy Award worthy performances by Schoenaerts and Dern. Dern, who has been nominated many times might see his first win. Schoenaerts is also extremely good and carries the film but the Academy is not one to give an unfamiliar name especially a non-American the award.
Besides Roman’s violent nature, the script which was co-written by the director with Mona Fastvold and Brock Norman Brock subtly reveals the sensitive side of the violent Roman with one scene showing him breaking down with tears and another of him showing loyalty to his co-trainer. The film is able to connect the audience with the material, so important in any movie. The film keeps key plot points from the audience revealing them as necessary thus heightening the audience anticipation factor. Who the young lady visitor is and what crime Roman committed are only revealed later on in the film.
But the film’s absolute prize and delight lie in the film’s surprise closing and extremely moving shot.
To emphasize the authenticity of the film’s story, the end credits show images of convicts and their horses: Dan and Pete, Jason and Jessie, Luis and Smokey among others.
THE MUSTANG is a well-made film in all departments, entertaining at the same time and garnishing a 100% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes at the time of writing. The film was obviously made with great pride and respect for horses, and it is executively produced by Robert Redford famous for a related film, THE HORSE WHISPERER.