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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The Mustang is a drama about a violent prisoner (Matthias Schoenaerts) who finds redemption after learning how to train a wild horse. It's a simple, soulful movie that promotes compassion and is gently told, but it also has many mature moments. Violence can be strong and shocking: A character loses his temper and punches a horse, a character is viciously stabbed (his body twitches, and blood oozes out of the wound), and a character is thrown from and stomped by a horse (his bloody face is shown). There's also fighting, angry shouting, a spoken story about a man beating up his wife, and a scary sequence during a storm. Language is also very salty, with multiple uses of "f--k," "s--t," and more. The drug ketamine is stolen and prepared, and someone snorts it. Men shower shirtless, and there's very brief sex-related dialogue.
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What's the story?
In THE MUSTANG, violent convict Roman Coleman (Matthias Schoenaerts) is transferred to a new prison, where the staff psychologist (Connie Britton) recommends him for a job working outdoors, rather than spending a stint in solitary. Roman isn't thrilled to discover that his job entails picking up horse manure, but the nearby wild mustangs -- caught and subsequently tamed by prisoners to be later put up for auction -- mesmerize him, especially one particularly spirited animal. Head trainer Myles (Bruce Dern) spots Roman and puts him in a pen with the horse. With help from fellow inmate Henry (Jason Mitchell), and despite losing his temper a few times, Roman eventually forms a bond with the animal. Trouble comes when Roman finds the strength to re-connect with his pregnant daughter (Gideon Adlon), and his cellmate (Josh Stewart) blackmails him into stealing medication from the animals' facility. Can Roman remain focused enough to successfully show his horse at the auction?
Is it any good?
This horse drama doesn't break any new ground, but it's a simple, soulful movie that's told gently, and all the pieces fit together with beauty and grace. Actress Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre (The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, The Extraordinary Adventures of Adele Blanc-Sec) makes her feature directing debut with The Mustang, which is based on a real program that exists in certain states and reportedly has a strong track record in rehabilitating prisoners. The movie provides a handful of written notes about the program at the beginning and ending, freeing the film to concentrate on its ebb and flow rather than a need to hammer home big messages.
The Mustang has the feel of a familiar old Western, with some vaguely underdeveloped minor elements, but with new life breathed into it. Light is used vividly, especially beaming through windows into the tiny prison cells. The exterior shots are beautifully sun-dappled but also chilly, perfectly capturing the juxtaposition between fury and tranquility in both human and horse. Schoenaerts is part of what makes the movie work so well, with his fearsome frame that's unpredictable and explosive and his soft, expressive eyes. Even though he commits a scene of shocking violence against the animal, it's possible to eventually forgive him. Best of all is Dern, a cranky old-timer straight out of a John Wayne movie, but with his heart in the right place.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about The Mustang's violence. How intense is it? What's shown, and what's referred to? Is it all necessary to the story?
What did you learn about the real-life prison horse-training program described in the movie? Did the movie inspire you to learn more?
Is Roman redeemed during the movie? What does that mean? What's appealing about stories about redemption?
How does Myles show compassion and kindness even while remaining cranky and stern?
- In theaters: March 15, 2019
- On DVD or streaming: June 11, 2019
- Cast: Matthias Schoenaerts, Jason Mitchell, Bruce Dern
- Director: Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre
- Studio: Focus Features
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: Horses and Farm Animals
- Character strengths: Compassion
- Run time: 96 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: language, some violence and drug content
- Last updated: October 9, 2019
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