As usual, I was glad for Gus Mollasis‘s film class to force me to eat the proverbial film equivalent of spinach. I’m not a prison movie fan, yes, even Shawshank Redemption is not something I’m going to seek out, but The Mustang, written and directed by Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre was definitely worth getting in the saddle for.
First it included one of my old man crushes, Bruce Dern. Truth be told, I had a crush on this actor young, The King of Marvin Gardens, continuing into his ‘experienced’ years, Nebraska. In this, he plays a crusty horse wrangler, perfect for his wagon wheel house.
Second, the writer/director Cleremont-Tonnerre, starred in one of my favorite movies of all time The Diving Bell and the Butterfly.
The real star of the film, Matthias Scheonaerts, plays a violent inmate with boiling rage. In a perfect parallel, he is placed to tame wild mustangs. He’s been in a few of my favorite films as well, Far From the Madding Crowd and The Bigger Splash.
What I loved about this film were the many co-existing symbols: Schoenaerts (his character’s name is Roman) being told not to look the horse in the eye, the prison visiting room camera man who tells Roman and his daughter not look in the lens (eye) rather look at his finger. The fact that “Roman’s” daughter will not allow her father to be close to her, correlated to the mustang not trusting Roman in the pen.
Connie Britton, the prison psychologist does a magnificent job as the understated no nonsense anger management counselor. I first became a fan of hers in the film Beatriz at Dinner. And while I could only take one episode of the soap operatic Dirty John, appreciated her role.
Best of all, The Mustang taught me information: First, 100,000 wild mustangs roam the northwest and occasionally some are rounded up, tamed and trained to be auctioned off to police agencies. Second: the movie made me realize (once again) how tragic prisoners’ lives are, in the most profound group counseling scenes, Britton asks the men how long the pre-meditation of their crimes was, to which many of them answered mere minutes, contrasted to the decades duration of their sentences (and rightly so for the most part considering death and destruction caused). Having a cousin who spent time in Attica for a violent crime, when his upbringing was abusive and lacking to say the least, re-broke, for lack of a better word, my heart again for his trajectory.
I certainly could have done without the violence and yet it was not gratuitous, just sad realism. Great story writing and tremendous acting!