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Film Reviews Review: The Mustang couldn’t drag you away, though it does buck a handful of prison-drama expectations

Matthias Schoenaerts stars in Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre's The Mustang.

Tara Violet Niami/Focus Features

  • The Mustang
  • Directed by Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre
  • Written by Mona Fastvold and Brock Norman Brock
  • Starring Matthias Schoenaerts, Jason Mitchell and Bruce Dern
  • Classification 14A
  • 96 minutes

rating

There are films with obvious metaphors and then there is The Mustang, which lassos its central analogy (just like horses, some men need to be tamed) and rides it, bucking-bronco-style, into the sunset. But while almost everything about this drama is obvious, director Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre captures it with a swirling and dusty sort of beauty. The French filmmaker’s talent behind the camera is so remarkable in its patience and curiosity that I spent long stretches of The Mustang hoping that the central story might drop out altogether, the better to appreciate de Clermont-Tonnerre’s cynicism-free appreciation of the American West landscape.

Evidently this isn’t The Mustang’s chief concern, and so we keep returning to a familiar jailhouse tale about a violent, perpetually angry Nevada inmate Roman (Matthias Schoenaerts) coaxed into training wild mustangs before they’re sold at auction. Although de Clermont-Tonnerre veers away from the story’s expected ending at the last minute, the set-up is entirely paint-by-prison-numbers, including one subplot involving contraband smuggling and another focusing on Roman’s estranged teenage daughter.

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The strong cast keep their heads down and offer all the obligatory rhythms – if you hire Bruce Dern as a crabby horse-trainer, you are going to get exactly what you paid for – and the film eagerly embraces the purely filthy dullness of prison life. Like Roman, though, all I longed for were further glimpses of the life outside, where man and beast roam free, oblivious to any narrative demands.

The Mustang opens March 22 in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver.

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