“The Mustang” is a wild horse that must be broken so he can go on to something more useful to humans than running around free. Roman Coleman is a violent felon who must be broken, too, but all he’ll go on to is a lot more days and nights in prison.
Horse and man meet when Coleman (Matthias Schoenaerts) is given the chance to participate in a program run in Nevada to train wild mustangs while simultaneously rehabilitating convicts. The program is run by Bruce Dern, ornery as ever, who needs the mustangs in shape and ready to be ridden so they can be auctioned off to ranchers and other agencies (Las Vegas metro police, the border patrol, etc.).
The scenes of Coleman and the other inmates working with the horses are riveting as they move from tentative, angry approaches to eventual cooperation. We also get the requisite scenes of life inside a prison, including the flareup of racial tensions, antagonistic cellmates, and illegal activity. There are also some heartfelt moments between Coleman and his pregnant daughter (Gideon Adlon, daughter of Pamela Adlon of FX’s “Better Things”) on visiting days. Jason Mitchell is really good as Henry, a veteran of the horse-training program who offers Roman some much-needed tips. Connie Britton shows up for a couple of scenes, too, as a therapist working with Roman and other prisoners.
But the movie comes down to the man and the horse, and the way they work together while both prisoners of the system. French director Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre shows a real feel for this almost-western, and gets good performances out of each species.
I give “The Mustang” a 7.5 out of 10. Stick around for the credits, which show some of the real-life prisoners — and the horses they trained — whom the movie is based.
One additional note: watching Bruce Dern in this movie reminded me of when he was on my radio show a dozen years ago upon publication of his autobiography, “Things I’ve Said, But Probably Shouldn’t Have.” I went back and listened to that conversation and was happy to hear that it was as great as I remembered. He told stories about having to shoot John Wayne in “The Cowboys,” getting advice from a Vietnam Vet on playing his role in “Coming Home,” being directed by and learning from Alfred Hitchcock in “Family Plot,” and more. I also asked him how uncomfortable he was seeing his daughter, Laura Dern, in explicit love scenes like those in “Wild At Heart.” If you missed its original airing, you can listen to the whole thing right here. I think you’ll enjoy it as much as I did.