THE MUSTANG: Google the word “anti-social” and you’d likely get a description or an image of someone resembling prison inmate Roman Colman (Matthias Schoenaerts). For him, incarceration has infected him with a kind of “at home” feeling that gives him the benefit of not having to interact with any other human being except for the occasional violent outburst where fist meets face. He’s the sort of misanthrope that the late actor/comedian Richard Pryor (SILVER STREAK) was referencing when he said, “Thank God we got prisons”. But nothing brings out the best in even the most incorrigible of us like animals (At least, that’s what the dog food commercial says.). This familiar plot where an untameable man and beast forge a connection that makes them both better unfolds when Colman is placed in a program where he gradually learns the ins and outs of breaking and domesticating wild horses which are to be sold at government auction. Predictably, the imprisoned social outcast develops a bond with a particularly unruly steed while under the tutelage of a more experienced fellow prisoner (Jason Mitchell) and a cantankerous, grizzled old trainer (Bruce Dern). The harsh realities and underground world of life behind bars isn’t minimized so as to keep this from being a formulaic Disney style movie of redemption and that’s a major strength. But it’s a done at its’ own pace, effective character study of two and four-legged volatile mavericks who come to make an unlikely connection. Belgian actor Schoenaerts (THE DANISH GIRL) masterfully underplays his role to near perfection such that when he does release his emotions to an estranged daughter (Gideon Adlon) it’s like a wave pouring out of his tortured soul. Excellent performances are additionally turned in by Mitchell (DETROIT) and Dern (See CLOSING CREDITS.) who I like to just sit back and appreciate because he makes every line of dialogue and movement look so natural. Ruben Empens’ cinematography emphasizes the wide-openess of the modern West in contrast with the tightly confined, claustrophobic atmosphere of prison life. Once in a while, neophyte director Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre will obsessively linger over these vistas. But she consistently steers her own storytelling path such that her closing shot and what leads up to it will be retained in your mind long after the credits roll. CRITIC’S GRADE: B+

CLOSING CREDITS: Here is a buffet of excellent movies with Bruce Dern whose career has spanned nearly sixty years. – WILD RIVER (1960), MARNIE (1964), HUSH…HUSH, SWEET CHARLOTTE (1964), THE WAR WAGON (1967), WILL PENNY (1968), SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL SHERIFF! (1969), THEY SHOOT HORSES, DON’T THEY (1969), SILENT RUNNING (1971), THE KING OF MARVIN GARDENS (1972), POSSE (1975), SMILE (1975), BLACK SUNDAY (1977), COMING HOME (1978)*, THE DRIVER (1978), MONSTER (2003), BELIEVE IN ME (2007), NEBRASKA (2013)**, CHAPPAQUIDICK (2018)

*Academy Award Nomination for Best Supporting Actor

**Academy Award Nomination for Best Actor