MovieMonday: The Mustang

Here we go again.  For the third time in two years, a non-US filmmaker gives us a moving story from the western interior about the west itself and what it takes to be a man.

This one comes from French director Laure de Clermont-Tonerre and stars Belgian actor Matthias Schoenaerts as Roman Coleman, a man serving a long sentence in an isolated Nevada prison.

Coleman is fueled by rage and for this has spent long stints in isolation.  Occasional sessions with a psychologist underscore his fury but do not change him.  When his young adult daughter comes to visit him, he says, “I never want to see your goddamned face again.”  Their backstory is spooled out over the course of the film.

Coleman is chosen to participate in a program — apparently active in a few actual Western prisons — in which inmates are paired with wild stallions.  The goals are to train the horses, auction them for horse-appropriate work and to spare them from euthanasia.  Along the way, benefits may redound to the inmate trainers.

Coleman’s horse has a personality not unlike his own.  The mustang kicks repeatedly inside the wagon that has delivered him to the prison and is not amenable to human society.  As other inmates make progress with their horses, Coleman struggles against the horse and his own temper.

Little by little, cracks appear in Coleman’s armor.  The process is nicely supervised by Myles (Bruce Dern) a cranky old guy himself but one who understands both two-legged and four-legged males.

The prison, the scenery, the horses, the inmates and Coleman cohere into a satisfying narrative, worth a trip to the multiplex, assuming your local cinema screens non-tentpole films.

I enjoyed this movie and recommend it.


Note

Recent western US film stories about horses, men and manliness include last year’s The Rider about a Native American rodeo star (made by a CHINESE filmmaker); and  Lean on Pete,  about a teenager from a broken family who befriends a horse and heads out into the frontier (from BRITISH filmmaker Andrew Haigh. ) Both movies are very good.

A third film, Hostiles, is an American-made story about the painful 1890s reconciliation between the US Army and native tribes in the west; sadly, it missed its target.  The most consistent praise it won was for cinematography by Masanobu Takayanagi, a Japanese artist who presumably came to the scenery and the story with an open mind.

The American film media (plural) emanate now almost entirely from large coastal cities, big college film programs, mega-studios and streaming companies.  It’s ironic that filmmakers from other continents take up compelling narratives that Americans cannot see.

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