Sundance 2019: The Mustang

Matthias Schoenaerts appears in The Mustang by Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre, an official selection of the Premieres program at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute.

The Mustang shines a light on the ways that the government controls the wild mustang populations by way of prisoner rehabilitation programs.

Following a quick prologue about the history of the wild mustangs in America, we meet meet Roman Coleman (Matthias Schoenaerts) at the Northern Nevada Correctional Center.  As a part of his prison duties, a prison psychologist (Connie Britton) assigns Roman to the Outside Maintenance program.  Roman goes outside of his boundaries by investigating a loud banging noise.  Next thing we know, he gets a warning from veteran trainer Myles (Bruce Dern).  Myles clues Roman in on the history behind mustangs and how they are going to be sold at auction in 90 days.

Roman can’t help but show more of an interest in these mustangs.  This is where experienced inmate trainer Henry (Jason Mitchell) lends Roman a hand.  With their help, Roman is the newest member of the wild mustang training program.  The horse that Roman gets paired with?  Let’s just say that it takes a while for the two of them to completely bond together.  This bonding experience provides to be good for Roman, who is halfway through his prison sentence.  It’s enough that Roman even names him Marquis.

Unfortunately for Roman, there are things that he’s not in a position to handle from his prison cell.  One of which is his pregnant daughter, Martha (Gideon Adlon).  If it were up to her, she’d get her grandmother’s house and place it for sale.  The only person standing in the way is Roman and we can understand why he’s not ready to give up the house.  Martha won’t take no for an answer and this in understandably very reasonable on her end.

Roman has enough on his plate but it’s not enough for his cellmate, Dan (Josh Stewart), to try and take advantage.  A horse tranquilizer, ketamine, is pretty popular on the prison campus.  Will Roman cave to the peer pressure from the prison gangs?

Can we talk about the fact that Connie Britton’s character doesn’t even have a name?  All the men in the film have a name!  The only other female character–Martha–in the film with any kind of a prominent role in the film has a name.  But Britton–a four-time Emmy nominee–doesn’t even have a character name outside of her character’s occupation?!?  I’m sorry but this just speaks of pure laziness on the film’s part.

Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre has a solid grasp of the material.  By my count, this is the third film with a horse playing a prominent role to premiere in the past three years, joining 2017 ‘s The Rider and Lean on Pete.  There’s just enough here to stand alone from the other two titles.  Not surprisingly, this film will leave us feeling emotional at times.  How couldn’t we be when there’s a horse with a meaty part?!?

The Mustang is able to successfully blend aspects of the prison drama and Western in a tale about a prisoner and his horse.  While told in a narrative form, the Wild Horse Inmate Program could easily be depicted in a documentary.

DIRECTOR:  Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre
SCREENWRITERS:  Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre, Mona Fastvold, Brock Norman Brock
CAST:  Matthias Schoenaerts, Jason Mitchell, Gideon Adlon, Josh Stewart, Thomas Smittle, Keith Johnson, with Connie Britton and Bruce Dern

The Mustang held its world premiere during the 2019 Sundance Film Festival in the Premieres section.  Focus Features will release the film on March 15, 2019. Grade: 3.5/5

Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.