As far as wide-release films go, there haven’t really been any truly excellent films to hit theaters this year, with “Shazam!” being pretty much the only exception.
However, when it comes to smaller indie films, 2019 has ushered in some wonderful gems. Films like “Transit” and “The Mustang,” the latest film to open at the Mary Riepma Ross Media Arts Center, have picked up the slack that blockbusters have been sorely missing.
Directed by Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre, “The Mustang” centers on an imprisoned convict named Roman Coleman who is given the opportunity to join a rehabilitation therapy program. The program allows prisoners the chance to train wild mustangs before the animals are sold at a public auction. Coleman is assigned an extremely wild and seemingly uncontrollable mustang to train, which in turn forces him to reconsider his approach toward life and his treatment of others.
“The Mustang” is a thrilling study of a character with mental health issues who has all but given up on returning to a life of freedom.
Coleman goes through his day-to-day routines in prison and, after being there for 12 years, has grown used to life there. He doesn’t seem to put much thought into what life would be like beyond the bars of his cell. The only visitor Coleman gets is his teenage daughter whom he tells not to come see him. He wants to be left alone. When presented with the opportunity to join the rehabilitation program, his loner attitude causes him to be very dismissive of it.
After reluctantly joining the program, Coleman sees that the dozen or so inmates there have a close, familial bond. They’re frequently joking around and spending time with each other when they can. Coleman wanted nothing to do with that. It isn’t until he is paired with a mustang, which he names Marcus, that Coleman starts to open up and control his anger and resentment toward the world.
The relationship between Coleman and Marcus is by far the best part of this film.
The man and his horse seem to have similar personalities. They are both stubborn and hard to work with, neither one wants to be there and they’ve both been confined to a system that doesn’t care about them. As the film goes on, the two start to develop a bond and begin to trust each other. Coleman is able to calm Marcus down and vice versa. Even though only one of them can speak, they begin to rely on each other for emotional support. Both dread the upcoming deadline in which Marcus is to be sold to ranchers or border patrol.
In addition to providing an emotional and real relationship for the audience to latch onto, “The Mustang” also sparks an interesting conversation regarding the prison system.
On several occasions, “The Mustang” highlights all the wrongdoings and injustices that occur within the U.S. prison system, such as poor living conditions and unjust sentences. While it never justifies the horrible actions of its central characters, actions that landed them in prison in the first place, it does ask a question. It asks if the punishments given to them really fit the crime they committed. Many of the central characters in “The Mustang” are in prison for split-second decisions, and they’re now sentenced for life.
“The Mustang” is a film that analyzes how society views the treatment of others, whether that be a family member, a convict or even a horse.
It’s an incredibly engaging film that asks its audience to truly reflect on its own beliefs. While “The Mustang” never quite takes a side, it does explore the humanity of its characters and asks the audience to consider if their crimes justify their punishments.
It’s an astonishingly resonant message, and it’s one that isn’t found too often, especially in the big action blockbusters of today.