Directed by: Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre
Written by: Brock Norman Brock, Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre and Mona Fastvold
Starring: Matthias Schoenaerts, Jason Mitchell, Bruce Dern
Running Time: 1 hour 36 minutes
MPAA Rating: R
by Rosalie Kicks, Old Sport
Within a few minutes of this pony flick starting I knew the entire premise and probably could have written this review without even finishing the movie. Not to suggest that the movie is not made well. I would not go as far to say that it is a masterpiece, but it is pretty damn good.
Director Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre tells a compact story in a just a little over ninety minutes about a convict, Roman (Mattias Schoenaerts) and his opportunity to train a wild mustang as a form of rehabilitation treatment. It may come as a surprise that this is the director’s feature debut, however she has told a similar story before in her short flick from 2014, Rabbit.
The flick literally hits the ground running with an opening scene of wild mustangs roaming the open plains in the Midwest being wrangled by government officials via helicopter. Apparently, the mustang population is a problem within the Midwestern part of the country, causing authorities to capture the feral steeds to ensure safety. Once captured, the mustangs are often shipped off to be euthanized. Some of the more fortunate ones are sent to correctional facilities in attempt to be tamed and then sold at public auction. Typically the buyers are other government agencies, such as local law enforcement.
From what I gathered, an inmate that is asked to participate in this type of therapy has proven themselves as one who is willing to take the steps of being rehabilitated. Therefore, the program is somewhat of a privilege as it allows the prisoner time outdoors and to learn a skill. As mentioned, the story is written concisely and does not waste any time meandering from the message it is trying to leave with the audience.
I believe this message to be that everyone should be given the opportunity of a second chance and that people (and creatures) do have the ability to change, but they need to be willing to take the steps to do so. The mustangs and prisoners have a lot in common. Both have been deemed ruffians by society and sent to confinement where they are ushered into treatment. Some are able to adapt, while others refuse to change.
A scene that I felt was extremely powerful was while in a group therapy session, the counselor goes around the room asking the offenders to state the amount of time it took to complete their crime. These guys have committed crimes from armed robbery to manslaughter. On average most reply twenty to thirty seconds from the time they thought about the act to actually committing it. I saw this movie on Monday and am still thinking about this.
Not to say that someone should not pay for their crime. However, that people are willing to give up their life for a twenty or thirty second action, made me wonder if they were even in the right frame of mind to begin with. The crime in which they commit may have only taken mere seconds, whereas the abuse or mental challenges some of them may have faced could have been lifelong. The violent actions they take almost seem like the next logical step in a life that may have already been tragic. It was scenes such as this that made me question the director’s use of narrative storytelling. I think this story possibly could have been more impactful if told as a documentary. Although, it was mentioned in the beginning of the film that many programs such as this are dying off and maybe through having this story told, we may see a renewed interest in this type of rehabilitation?
The movie does a wonderful job portraying the positive impact that this program has on the inmates that are involved. Almost immediately, Roman and his horse (which Roman presents with the name of Marcus), have a strong bond. They are one in the same; wild, unruly, aggressive brutes that need to be tamed. Of course this friendship could not be solidified until they each got in a few punches. Once they got that out of the way, they were like two peas in a pod.
Another element of the story that is woven into this is the relationship with Roman and his daughter, Martha (Gideon Aldon) who visits him while he is in prison. Her visits are mostly motivated to get him to sign over property so that she can utilize the money to leave town with her unborn child and boyfriend. However, the few scenes that are presented do provide context for why Roman finds himself in this particular situation and that he may be making strides inside the prison walls, but on the in the outside world, his problems remain.
Overall, I found the story quite compelling and the subject matter was interesting. I felt invested in Roman’s story and that can be credited to the performance given by Matthias Schoenaerts. Unlike his co-star Bruce Dern, who’s acting as of late can only be described as curmudgeon. Heck, the guy is 82 so there isn’t really much more for him to do in this arena. Regardless, it is not Bruce that will leave you talking anyways, it will be Laure. The woman has five directing credits to her name, and with this being her feature debut, I definitely think she is one to keep an eye on!