Horses and humans are not all that different, proffers director Laure de Clermont-Tonnere in “The Mustang,” her Sundance hit about an inmate seeking rehabilitation by breaking a wild horse. Neither man nor beast are lost causes.

From story, to cinematography, to performances, the film gives new meaning to horsepower. It gallops straight to the heart with urgency and grace. Riding it to the finish is the stoic performance by Belgian actor Matthias Schoenaerts, who infuses Roman Coleman (“I’m not good with people”) with equal parts vulnerability and strength.

He’s a quiet, guarded man, but his face screams internal torture. As part of Roman’s rehab, he is required to participate in the Wild Horse Inmate Program, which prepares mustangs for private adoption or auction. Roman has four weeks to turn a wild, aggressive “particularly crazed” equine into a saddle-trained horse he names Marquis.

The movie, co-written by de Clermont-Tonnere, Brock Norman Brock and Mona Fastvold, is fairly predictable with a couple prison clichés; chief among them a drug subplot and a threatening cellmate (Josh Stewart). You can bet your faded Wranglers, Roman’s road to redemption will be slow, marked with lessons about patience, perseverance and self-discovery. This is, after all, a film about second chances. It’s not a passive experience, either. The viewer must decide if a man convicted for a violent crime deserves our compassion and empathy. (By the way, the recidivism rate for prison horse trainers is about half the national rate of 68 percent.)

De Clermont-Tonnere makes it easy to comply courtesy of the fine performances she draws from a first-rate cast. Schoenaerts (“Far from the Madding Crowd.”) is a force; all masculine magnetism and impulse. Roman is mentored by a no-nonsense veteran trainer (Bruce Dern, perfectly cast) and helped by a lively fellow inmate and trick rider with a million-dollar smile (Jason Mitchell). Connie Britton is the tough but empathetic prison psychologist. Making an impression in his acting debut is real-life horseman Thomas Smittle, a Native American who plays Tom, one of the other prisoners in the wild horse training program. To further complicate Roman’s process, he must work toward healing a fractured relationship with his daughter, played by Gideon Adlon.

The film opens with a sweeping shot of dozens of wild horses running free on the range. When the camera pulls back, the grandeur of the landscape becomes a powerful element of the story. No one, no matter how withdrawn, can long resist the pull of these broad vistas and the freedom they represent. The film grabs you by the reins from the get-go and never loosens its grip.

Dana Barbuto may be reached at dbarbuto@patriotledger.com or follow her on Twitter @dbarbuto_Ledger.

“The Mustang”

Cast: Matthias Schoenaerts, Jason Mitchell, Gideon Adlon, Bruce Dern, Connie Britton.

(R for language, some violence and drug content.)

Grade: B+