Matthias Schoenaerts (Far from the Madding Crowd, Rust and Bone) gives a quietly devastating performance in French actor turned writer-director Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre’s acclaimed directorial debut, a bold, heartfelt redemption story executive produced by Robert Redford.
Roman Coleman (Schoenaerts), a convict in a rural Nevada prison, initially bristles when a psychiatrist (Connie Britton) sentences him to a horse therapy program as part of his state-mandated rehabilitation. But once there, spotted by a no-nonsense veteran trainer (Bruce Dern) and aided by a more experienced fellow inmate (Jason Mitchell), he is accepted on to the selective wild horse training section of the program and tasked with taming an especially unbreakable mustang, with whom – gradually – he forms a profound bond.
Exploring masculinity and healing through the process of taming wild horses sounds a predictable set-up and on its face recalls many other films, including Chloé Zhao’s (excellent) recent The Rider; but de Clermont-Tonnerre’s story is entirely her own. Rejecting sentimentality and avoiding narrative traps, she instead depicts Roman’s past, his innate, savage violence and his profound loneliness with ferocity and wounding sincerity. Beautifully shot and accompanied by a soaring score, The Mustang is a fearless, accomplished and incredibly promising debut.