Updated: Mar 20, 2020
Northern Nevada plays a big role in "The Mustang" featuring the state prison's wild horse training program. The program joins two similar characters, neither of whom play well with others. Prisoner Roman prefers solitary confinement to interacting with people of any kind. The horse Marquis, a prisoner who truly claims innocence, also stands alone, fighting socialization and conformity.
Though not uncommon to see healing bonds between human and animal, The Mustang presents the process in an unsentimental manner, spare and lean without detailed back story and explanation. This allows a plot hole or two, but characters worth caring for help distract from such flaws. Following the lead of an excellent training team, the lead buckskin mustang looks and acts strikingly different, following his marks to generate both fear and admiration.
As Roman, Belgian actor Mattias Schoenaerts blends his big tough-guy exterior with a sensitive interior, soft parts well protected by a hard shell. Better known as a supporting player in such films as "Rust and Bone," "Red Sparrow," and "The Danish Girl," Schoenaerts finally gets the starring role he deserves, fully meeting the requirements of striking presence and emotional range.
Support also comes from Connie Britton and Bruce Dern, giving the low-budget film a level of recognition that helped get the movie made. Both hit the right notes with their roles, though we Nevadans might cringe when Britton refers to our prison in quote, "E-lie." With a home at Tahoe, Dern gets it right when he refers to Nevada.
Carson City's prison steps in as the film's major location, looking one hundred percent appropriate. Surrounding terrain and a wild horse capture add authenticity to the piece, well directed by screenwriter Laure de Clermont. With international backing, she brings a fresh eye to what might feel familiar to locals. While she acknowledges some of the controversial issues surrounding wild horses, her focus aims at the positive relationship between living creatures. Man and horse soften each other, but not with expected clichÈs, making "The Mustang" ride well as a movie and for Nevada.
(below: photo of one of my favorite neighborhood wild horses, Starburst)
This review was originally aired on 4/9/2019.
You can listen to it online at https://www.kunr.org/post/mustang