Violent convict works with horses and learns about himself in smart, honest tale of redemption

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A broken man breaks a horse in "The Mustang," a tough but tender story about man's relationship with animals and the taming of the male psyche. 

Matthias Schoenaerts ("A Bigger Splash") plays Roman, a hardened, violent convict in a Nevada prison who gets roped into a rehabilitation program in which he helps to train wild mustangs.  

The initiative is run by Myles (Bruce Dern), a rough-hewn, no-nonsense horse trainer who drills the prisoners on the proper ways to treat and care for the horses. When Roman loses his temper and takes out his frustrations on his horse, physically assaulting him by punching him in the ribs, Myles threatens his life and has him thrown in the hole. 

Over time, Roman bonds with his animal, and learns the virtues of patience, hard work and dedication. It's a simple, touching story that director and first-time filmmaker Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre doesn't over-complicate or fudge up with extraneous details, nor does she allow typical weepie sentiment to spill over into her tale. She lets the natural storytelling play out, and winds up with a soothing, majestic tale of growth and learning. 

Schoenaerts, who has been known to play big screen toughs, rounds out the edges of his character by showing a vulnerability he rarely gets to display. He's a revelation. Connie Britton shows up as a psychologist working with him on his rehab, and "Straight Outta Compton's" Jason Mitchell plays a fellow convict, wise to the ways of the program.

There's a Disney movie in here somewhere, but Clermont-Tonnerre has no interest in it. She's too busy steering her own course, and it works.   

'The Mustang'

GRADE: B

Rated R: for language, some violence and drug content

Running time: 96 minutes

agraham@detroitnews.com

@grahamorama

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