By Megan Bianco
With horse movies, it’s often the same thing over and over again: either a goofy, low-budget G-rated comedy, or a sentimental drama appropriate for family viewers.
The usual classic titles are the first to pop up: National Velvet (1944), The Black Stallion (1979), Black Beauty (1994), Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron (2002), Seabiscuit (2003), Secretariat (2010), and so on. Horse-centered films have become such a novelty, with family friendly content and little girls’ interests, that when a horse movie for grownups comes along, people don’t know what to do with it.
Last year Lean on Pete was one of the best independent films of the 2018, one of the most well-made horse-themed movies ever, and seriously depressing on top of all that. So barely anyone saw it. This spring, Focus Features’ The Mustang seems headed in the same direction.
In a Nevada state prison, Roman Coleman (Matthias Schoenaerts) is in the middle of spending a decade serving time for a violent crime. His anger issues sometimes cause him to be put in isolation, and he prefers not to talk to people.
His teenage daughter Martha (Gideon Adlon) is ready to be emancipated from him so she can start her life over. At the same time, a rehab program that involves training wild horses is offered to him. To his surprise, his connection with one of the horses is so effective, it might possibly curb his violent tendencies. Bruce Dern and Connie Britton co-star as Roman’s personal mentors.
Watching the film, or even just the trailer, one probably wouldn’t assume The Mustang was actually made by a French production team. Actress Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre makes her full-length directing debut and surprisingly isn’t out of place with such an American setting. This horse film is actually loosely based on her previous short film Rabbit (2014), though this time De Clermont-Tonnerre swaps the female lead and bunnies for a man and horses. Similarly, Schoenaerts—who is unfairly overlooked as an interesting character actor most of the time—successfully pulls off playing a Californian as a Belgian actor.
The Mustang isn’t as depressing as Lean on Pete, and it is a good reminder of how therapeutic being with a special animal can be, no matter who you are. Don’t let the R rating turn you away (unless you’re under 16).
Megan Bianco is a Southern California-based movie reviewer and content writer with a degree from California State University Northridge.
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