A Brilliant Lead Performance;
Predictability doesn’t always hinder the power of a film. The age-old redemption story may be well-worn and easy to see coming at times, but when the pieces come together to create something this well done, it’s easy to forgive the fact that you likely know the ending after the first ten minutes.
Actress Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre has crafted an amazingly well-done debut film where everything comes together to hit all the right notes at all the right times. It is the third story of a man and a horse to come out in the past twelve months, and continues the high quality streak that The Rider and Lean On Pete started in 2018. Matthias Schoenaerts gives a performance to be marveled, balancing brooding with explosiveness as a violent prisoner named Roman who is recruited into a program that uses inmates to tame wild mustangs for public auction. The parallels are easy to spot between Roman and his horse, Marcus. Marcus is too wild to be kept with the other horses, having been deemed the most challenging prospect in a new crop of horses. Roman starts the film having just left solitary confinement, bound to return to the world of general population. They both live a life of solitude, but the difference is that Marcus yearns for the freedom he recently lost while Roman fears the outside world he has long since left behind.
The script wisely allows for a lot of beats and empty spaces, allowing us time to contemplate the gorgeous landscapes of the American west, as well as to astutely observe Roman, his fellow inmates and the horses they bond with. It goes from quiet to abruptly loud at the right points, keeps a great pace, and ends at just the right moment. And, yes, the predictability factor is undeniably present, but knowing how the story will likely end doesn’t hinder the impact of such a powerful character study. Not to be swept under the rug, Bruce Dern turns a smaller role into some big moments as the cowboy at the head of the inmate program who decides whether you shovel dung or get the privilege of working with one of the animals. He sees more in Roman than Roman sees in himself, a common theme prevalent in several relationships within the film.
The film is about the struggle to build strong, lasting connections between reluctant parties. When Roman’s daughter visits him, he can barely look at her, embarrassed by how she must see him. He feels the weight of his crime (and when he eventually describes the act, it is a very raw moment) and wants to shoulder it all to himself without any help, or worse, pity. His frustration with Marcus and his initial rebuffs must parallel the way his he treats his daughter, with cold and silent intensity and a smattering of resentfulness. Of course, Roman will find ways to open up as the film progresses, but maybe not in all the ways you would expect.
Some of the wildest animals were never meant to be tamed. And some of them may just end up taming us.
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