First Hit: The acting was excellent and what still stays with me was deep breathing of the horse and Roman as they dealt with their caged circumstances — powerful.
The opening shots of the wild horses running the plains of the United States was a perfect set-up for this story.
Then, helicopters drop into the frame to herd the horses into a pen where some will be “broken” and sold at auction. Thinking about how these beautiful animals are taken from their habitat and used by others is both heartbreaking and hopeful.
Hopeful; in that, some of the horses are captured and trained by prisoners to be horses that will be fed and used to help society. The prisoners benefit as well.
Heartbreaking; in that the US Government thins these herds because of what happens to land and other livestock when a hundred thousand horses are left free to run the ground as they wish. Nothing likes its freedom taken away.
One of the captured horses is locked in a single wood sided stall, and he continually bangs against the walls — he wants out of his pen. He’s a wild one.
Caging a man is much the same, it can be both cruel and helpful. In this case, Roman (Matthias Schoenaerts) has been in prison for twelve years. He’s quiet, and his anger at society and himself is palpable throughout the film. He is like a walking volcano.
His opening scenes are with a prison psychologist who is asking him questions. He says nothing as he’s being asked his preferences. The psychologist asks him a few questions about how and why he’s been in solitary, and he mumbles, “I’m not good with people.”
At one point, she touches an emotional button, and he springs up in anger. His temper quick, decisive and filled with rage. The focus of his disposition is made clear to the audience.
This completes the setup of this film’s story, two wild beings caged, stewing and expressing their angst and anger at the drop of a hat.
How will these two meet each other and help each other is the journey this film takes you. To improve the story along, the prison has Myles (Bruce Dern) as the crusty, well-worn guy who helps prisoners train the horses. His demeanor tells you he’s in-charge from assigning what horse goes with what prisoner and whether a particular horse or prisoner is in the program. No one questions his authority over the program nor his understanding of the relationship between horse and man.
Roman gets the roughest assignment to help train the wildest of horses.
The scenes with Roman and the horse in the corral together are priceless. They are horrifying at some level and beyond sweet at other times. Through this experience, the audience begins to learn the depth of Roman’s pain and anger.
But the scene when a group of select prisoners talk about how quick they went from their anger to the crime puts them in prison is not only powerful but puts things into perspective.
We are grateful to learn what Roman did to get himself into prison during one of the visits from his pregnant daughter Martha (Gideon Alden). The pain both Roman and Martha have are poignantly expressed.
There are so many powerful scenes in this film that I could not point to anyone that makes this an excellent movie. However, when Myles gives Roman a hint as to how to save his wild horse, I was moved deeply. The unspoken caring was palpable.
Schoenaerts was amazing. His ability to carry his volcanic anger around in his eyes, face, and body was outstanding. Dern was phenomenally perfect. He carried his scenes with perfected aplomb. Jason Mitchell as Henry a fellow prisoner who really helps Roman find a way to communicate with his horse was excellent. Adlon as Roman’s daughter was beautiful. Her wanting to protect herself from and also love her father was well done. Connie Britton as the psychologist was excellent. Her strength during Roman’s outburst was sublime. Brock Norman Brock and Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre wrote a moving and pointed script. Clermont-Tonnerre’s direction was fantastic in how she captured the feel of prison life with a slight dash of hope. The ending scene was tear evoking. In the credits, I liked that they had real prisoners and the horses they trained showing on the screen.
Overall: This is a beautiful story about one way to help men come to grips with their past actions and find a new way to grow.