Roman Coleman (Matthias Schoenaerts) is a convict recently transferred to a new facility with a rehabilitation therapy program that sees inmates learning to train horses. At first, he's initially reluctant, but when he befriends the program's leader (Bruce Dern), he begins to learn about himself in the process.
Prison movies generally tend to centre around a number of different themes, predominantly redemption, the nature of sin, the punishing conditions, all the things you'd normally associate with prison. While the likes of Netflix's 'Orange Is The New Black' has tried to elevate it beyond these tropes - and even inject some humour into it - movies generally tend to stick the familiar tropes. 'The Mustang', it must be said, follows these same tropes without much in the way of deviation from it.
Matthias Schoenaerts brings an incredible amount of intensity to his performance as Roman, a softly-spoken but deeply angry convict who doesn't fit in well with others and is generally happiest when he's left alone. This, of course, won't do for Bruce Dern - who quickly sets him to breaking a wild mustang in and learning the horse trade with him. There's more than a few moments that almost certainly verge into cliche, but Schoenaerts' performance instead keeps it in an authentic and meaningful state.
It's the same with Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre's direction and the script by Brock Norman Brock (who also wrote 'Bronson'), Mona Fastvold and de Clermont-Tonnere. There aren't that many story beats in 'The Mustang' that you won't see coming, but it doesn't really matter. The tenderness and the authenticity that's shown throughout the movie more than makes up for this. The direction is clear, concise and not fussy in the slightest, allowing for a naturalism in both the actors' performances and the story itself.
Moving at a considered pace, the cinematography by Ruben Impens captures the wild beauty of Nevada and the mustang horse with the drab, miserable conditions inside the prison. So often with prison dramas, there's a sense that rehabilitation is just around the corner, or that the prisoners themselves are stuck in a vicious circle. This is something that 'Michael Inside', a fantastic Irish prison drama, explored in great detail and made for some truly unsettling moments.
'The Mustang', meanwhile, offers up a soulful, poetic examination of freedom and imprisonment, man and nature, and how so often the two know more of one another than they both realise.