Saturday, February 2, 2019

Sundance with Abe: The Mustang

I’m thrilled to be attending and covering the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah for the sixth time. I’m seeing as many movies as I can each day and will post reviews of each as I can.

The Mustang
Directed by Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre

Most people who spend many years in prison develop new interests over the course of their time behind bars. They are most certainly not the same person they were when they were first incarcerated, and changing elements of modernity may be able to permeate the prison’s walls. Resolve and optimism are not necessarily affected by outside forces, and therefore it remains up to a prisoner to see the opportunities that lie ahead for them and are, most vitally, within their grasp based on accessibility.

Roman Coleman (Matthias Schoenaerts) is serving time in Nevada, less than social with any other prisoners and visited only by his pregnant daughter Martha (Gideon Adlon), who is seeking emancipation since his release is nowhere in sight. Assigned to outdoor maintenance by a prison psychologist (Connie Britton), Roman begins working with horses being prepared for auction under the supervision of a trainer (Bruce Dern). Initially uninterested in learning how to bond with his horse, Roman follows the lead of a fellow prisoner, Henry (Jason Mitchell), who helps him to understand the transformative power of being in sync with a large, strong animal.

Last year, another film about a man devoted to his horse, “The Rider,” wowed audiences and critics. This film begins from a very different perspective, with Roman not keen on the notion of working with an animal and even at one point taking out his anger on the horse, much to the horror of everyone watching. When an impending storm demands assistance from anyone with even a passing knowledge of how to work with the horses, Roman’s mind slowly begins to change, and he takes on the challenging but rewarding task of taming and training the unruliest and wildest member of the pack.

Schoenaerts, who has appeared previously in films like “A Bigger Splash” and “Rust and Bone,” imbues Roman with a deep disconnectedness from the passage of time and the promise of building relationships with anyone else. Adlon is sentimental and passionate in her scenes opposite him, while Dern offers a seasoned expertise in which he conveys the experience he has had and the talent he sees in those much younger. This film is most poignant in its scenes that find Roman quietly connecting with his horse, opening up in a way that he never thought possible while still maintaining the gruff exterior that has become a part of him.


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