(Netflix Streaming, August 2018) Harsh, uncompromising but satisfying, Wind River is another success for writer/director Taylor Sheridan, who tackles the difficult subject of violence against native women in a thriller that pulls no punches. Jeremy Renner stars as a man with specific skills that become very useful once a murder is reported on a reserve—being a skilled tracker/hunter turns out to be essential when the FBI can’t be bothered to send more than a token junior agent. Directed soberly, Wind River does tackle difficult topics in discussing the way violence can strike “even the good kids” and the devastating legacy that such deaths can cause. At the same time, it’s a bit of a macho revenge tale in which the unknown assailants of a revolting crime and tracked, caught and made to suffer. I’m not overly bothered by the premise that sees a white man bring justice on native land—the film clearly shows the protagonist’s pre-existing sympathies for his native ex-in-laws, and the film does leave plenty of development for its native characters. Renner makes the most of his existing action persona, while Graham Greene is up to his usual high standards. Elizabeth Olsen feels-out of place, but that’s the point of the film. Kelsey Chow has a short but striking role. With Sicario and Hell and High Water, actor-turned-screenwriter Sheridan fast established himself as a writer to watch for mature character-driven thrillers of the sorts we’ve grown to miss in a fantasy-saturated cinema marketplace. With his directorial debut Wind River, he takes it to the next level—now let’s see what next he has in store.
(Netflix Streaming, May 2017) It says much about today’s Hollywood that we’ve come to crave solid crime thrillers as an alternative to the usually undistinguishable dreck that has come to dominate multiplexes. Hell or High Water is a throwback to the time when this kind of crime drama, solidly acted, put together with skill, eschewing formula and taking on social issues, was a fixture rather than an exception. Here, Chris Pine and Ben Foster star as brothers trying to stop a bank’s takeover of their family farm by robbing branches of that very same bank. The populist anger runs raw in this film, which only heightens the drama when an affable veteran policeman (Jeff Bridges, gritty as ever) chases them across the state. The result is very much like a modern western, with SUVs replacing horses as our antiheroes go rob banks in small cities. It’s a solid script by Taylor Sheridan (who’s improving from movie to movie), and David Mackenzie’s direction effectively manages to portray East Texas in a credible fashion. It’s also, refreshingly, a movie that cares for even its minor characters: There are two waitress characters in the film, for instance, and both of them (Katy Mixon and Margaret Bowman) get a few memorable moments well beyond the usual “here’s your food, sweetheart”. There are no clear good or bad guys here, as viewers’ loyalties are tested and the film refuses a conventionally uplifting resolution. This being said, Hell or High Water does ends leaving a sense of satisfaction at the way the story is wrapped up, having taken us on a ride unlike most other big-budget movies out there. As a standalone movie, it’s crunchy good viewing. As an antidote to the current Hollywood orthodoxy, though, it’s nothing short of delicious.