The Mustang ★★★★½

The Mustang tells a simple story of a man in prison without parole, struggling to reconcile with the split-second decision that put him behind bars, and the distraught daughter he left behind. It may be a simple story, with many, many iterations, but the way the French writer/director Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre tells her version is absolutely beautiful. The film depicts the rare, but wildly successful rehab program where inmates are responsible for breaking in wild horses in order to sell them in auctions. A film doesn’t always need a groundbreaking or mind-blowing story to be great, and The Mustang proves that in every facet. Clermont-Tonnerre establishes her protagonist from the beginning with the barest bones possible, in many ways relying solely on visuals and the audience’s preconceptions of the incarcerated. Matthias Schoenaerts portrays the lead, Roman Coleman, incredibly, fully personifying the unstable, insecure man who is desperate to achieve his challenging goal - every inch of his face etched with raw, yet repressed, emotion. What Clermont-Tonnerre goes on to do for the remainder of the film is nothing short of masterclass, unveiling layers of her main character slowly and precariously, each layer getting more horrific and heartbreaking than the last. In this way, The Mustang is not only an excellent film in craft but, in the most simplest of ways, has so much to say about the way we see each other and the common links that make us all human. Supporting Schoenaerts, Bruce Dern and Jason Mitchell serve as incredible supporting acts, as the gruff, no-nonsense instructor, and Coleman’s optimistic friend, respectively. While there is an odd detour into a drug smuggling B-story, the heart of this film stays entirely intact from start to finish, with an emotional climax that is far more effective than expected. Visually stunning, emotionally compelling, and remarkably poignant, The Mustang is a brilliant testament to the human spirit, and the potential of all people, no matter their past.