The Mustang

 

            There are about 100,000 wild horses still roaming the open range in places like Nevada and Utah.  Some of them are rounded up by the government, in order to be brained by convicts while serving time in federal penitentiaries.  The trained horses are then sold at auction, often to other government agencies, like the Border Patrol.  This movie is the story of one convict, Roman (Matthais Schoenaerts), and one very wild mustang who were both being given up on as too wild, too ill-tempered, too antisocial.  When they found each other, it wasn't like a magical cure.  But it was a step in the right direction.  Starting with a rough kind of acceptance.

            Roman has a lot of anger issues.  He's been imprisoned for a dozen years already, and his tough exterior reflects his somber personality.  He really doesn't mind solitary confinement, because he prefers being alone.  He has regrets about how he got there, which was through an impulsive act of violence, entirely in keeping with his character.  The only one who's ever come to see him is his grown daughter, Martha (Gideon Adlon),who can barely be civil to him.  He hasn't managed to mend fences with her, either.  His occasional cellmate is himself a violent man, who's somehow managed to keep feeding his drug habit, even in prison.  It's a volatile situation; a powder keg awaiting a spark.

            Roman has never worked with horses before, but he finds this one particular mustang compelling, because he doesn't work well with others, either.  The attempts at trying to get in the arena with him are clumsy and awkward.  But somehow the horse enjoys the confrontation, because at least it's some form of attention.  Roman is frustrated with the lack of progress, but eventually he learns to communicate.  And throw on a bridle.  Then a saddle.  And then ride.  Though he does get thrown off, when either he gets distracted, or the horse does.  All of this is under the watchful eye of Myles (Bruce Dern), an irascible old coot who's loudmouthed and ornery, but he wants his charges to succeed, both human and animal.

            It's a rough cob kind of redemption.  But gradually, we see some progress.  And at the end, the credits tell us that prisoners who have worked with this program are much less likely to return to prison.  If it helps the poor recidivism rate, it's worth all the energy and hassle.  Because restoration is never easy.  But always worth it.

 

Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, DFW Film Critics Association