Title: The Mustang
Country: France, USA
Director: Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre
Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre
Brock Norman Brock
Music: Jed Kurzel
Cinematography: Ruben Impens
Editor: Géraldine Mangenot
A redemption tale inspired by an actual inmate rehabilitation program in Carson City, Nevada, THE MUSTANG is surprisingly directed by the French actress-turned-director Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre as her debut feature.
Complying with recent precedents, such as Chloé Zhao’s THE RIDER (2017) and Jacques Audiard’s THE SISTER BROTHERS (2018), which indicate that an outsider’s status can substantively put a refreshing perspective on the tired legacy of America’s vast western, THE MUSTANG is a fascinating study of the analogy between a shut-in inmate and an unbroken horse.
Roman Colman (Schoenaerts), having spent 12 years in incarceration, seems having no hankering for freedom, and newly joins the aforementioned program, he is tasked with training an untamable mustang which he names Marquis, to ensure it can be sold at the auction a few weeks after.
Clermont-Tonnerre shows up a natural deftness in keeping up with the horse’s movements and reactions (Marquis and the horse wranglers are equally laudable), as well as a discerning eye for the natural pulchritude, particularly in the opening sequences, grand aerial shots of a herd of wild mustangs rounded up by buzzing helicopters hovering across the plain, their constrained fate is consequentially likened with the freedom-deprived convicts, and Marquis’ unbroken nature chimes in organically with Roman’s obstinacy and penitence.
In the dead center, Schoenaerts returns to the top form in Roman’s bulky physique and withdrawn temperament, whose major crime will only be divulged in a heartstring-tugging confession with his gravid daughter Martha (Adlon). Elsewhere, he subsists studiously of Roman’s baby steps of re-connecting with another being with an emphatic urge of suppressing his violent predisposition, limned tenderly, intimately and patiently through his interaction with the feral Marquis.
Granted that the human-horse dynamism is the meat of the film’s quiet strength, other human performers are considerably allotted less fodder to chew, Bruce Dern is sprightly and rough-hewn as the cantankerous ranger Myles, yet it turns out that his bark is much worse than his bite. But in the case of Jason Mitchell’s Henry, a skilled black trainer/inmate who befriends and counsels Roman about “how to tame the unbroken”, THE MUSTANG looks retrograde to, time and again, subject him as an agency of tragedy, especially in the woke era, it does raise one’s eyebrows, indeed, the whole ketamine smuggling episode feels fairly detached and stilted as a whole.
Fortunately, on the strength of Clermont-Tonnerre’s poetic touch and sober containment of dramatization, as well as Schoenaerts’ tour-de-force, THE MUSTANG sustains its momentum right through the homestretch, singing a hymn to untamed souls that harks back to the origin of Hollywood oaters.