Movie review: Wind River

Movie reviews

Hello!

Let’s take a break from all the summer blockbusters of varying quality and give a chance to the dying genre of the regular movie. This is the review of Wind River.

IMDb summary: An FBI agent teams with a town’s veteran game tracker to investigate a murder that occurred on a Native American reservation.

Taylor Sheridan

Wind River is a thriller, written and directed by Taylor Sheridan. Sheridan’s name might be unfamiliar to a lot of people, but cinephiles should know him for writing two recent marvelous pictures that both had some awards potential – 2015’s Sicario and 2016’s Hell or High Water. While Sheridan didn’t direct any of his previous scripts (Sicario was done by Villeneuve, and Hell or High Water by Mckenzie), he does have some directing experience, having helmed 2011’s horror film, Vile. Wind River is being distributed by the awards whisperers The Weinstein Company. Their involvement combined with Sheridan’s previous track record might actually give Wind River a chance to make some ways during the proper awards season. More importantly, the film highly deserves that.

Writing

Sheridan, similarly to his previous movies, has written a story that’s both thrilling and entertaining but is also thematically clever. Wind River, a film inspired by true events, is set on a Native American reservoir and the first victim of a crime is a young Native American woman. The local police are not equipped to solve the mystery, while FBI is also not willing to pay a lot of attention. This fictionalized account goes very much in line with the real life events (so, ‘inspired by true events’ sentence is accurate). As an anthropology student, I have studied a few cases of Native American women going missing in the north of North America and the local authorities doing nothing to find them (in class, we mostly focused on cases in Canada but the film’s Wyoming’s case was very similar). Wind River’s story at least had a somewhat happy ending and some closure, however, that’s usually not the case in real life. So, it was really nice for a film to end with a sentence about the statistics of missing Native women –  a call to action, even if it will probably go unheard.

The depictions of the reservoir life seemed quite accurate. The problems within a Native American community – the drugs and substance abuse, poverty, the loss of identity and the marginalization – were all mentioned. The relationship between the white Americans and the Native Americans was represented in a variety of ways. The viewers saw both a friendly relationship of a white man being, more or less, a member of a community and an outsider white American being seen as a hostile stranger (at least in the beginning). Lastly, even though some of the ideas and relationships in the film could be seen as very specific and having a limited crossover, the overarching themes of the picture were survival and family – two extremely universal concepts that are understood across all cultures.

I have mentioned the historical facts as well as topics of the movie, let’s now turn our attention to the actual detective story. To begin with, I found it refreshing to see an FBI agent and a local hunter working together and listening to one another, rather than competing to reach the same goal. It was also nice to see a completely professional relationship without any pushed romance being depicted. The reveal of who the criminals were – 5 white, less than bright, drunk men from a working class background – was maybe a bit disappointing at first but, on a second viewing, very much grounded and realistic. Plus, the scene that followed the reveal – the rapid shoot-out – was unexpected in the best way possible and also oddly satisfying.

Directing

While Sheridan’s directing style wasn’t groundbreaking, it was still good in its subtlety. His direction for the picture was mostly elevated by his own amazing writing. Visually, the film looked nice – the sweeping shots of the mountains and snow were naturally gorgeous, while the sequence of the snowmobile action added an element of effortless coolness. The pacing was very good too – the film was constantly building to a crescendo and also delivered on it. Wind River was definitely a great effort from a sort of new director.

Acting

At the center of Wind River, two Marvel stars were reunited – Jeremy Renner and Elizabeth Olsen. They both did a magnificent job. It was nice to see Renner continuing his indie/awards career alongside his blockbuster-focused one (he was just recently in Arrival in addition to Civil War, MI5, and Age of Ultron). Elizabeth Olsen (Godzilla) has really come into her own as an actress and is probably now more famous (acting-wise) than her older sisters.

The supporting cast, thankfully, provided an opportunity for some Native American/First Nations talent to shine, like Gil Birmingham (he was also in Hell or High Water), Julia JonesGraham Greene, and Martin Sensmeier. Jon Bernthal (Baby Driver, The Accountant, We Are Your Friends) also appeared in the film, reuniting with Sheridan, after having worked on Sicario with him. 

In short, Wind River is an emotional, smart, and entertaining thriller that deserves more recognition that it will probably get.

Rate: 4.4/5

Trailer: Wind River trailer

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Movie review: Hell or High Water

Movie reviews

Hello!

Today, we are talking about one of the most critically acclaimed indie films of 2016. It’s the review of Hell or High Water.

IMDb summary: A divorced dad and his ex-con brother resort to a desperate scheme in order to save their family’s ranch in West Texas.

Writing

Actor-turned-screenwriter Taylor Sheridan wrote Hell or High Water’s script and did an amazing job. This screenplay was actually the winner of 2012’s Black List and I’m really happy that it was turned into a movie, even if 4 years later than it should have been. Sheridan also penned the script for last year’s Sicario – a standout movie of 2015. Both Sicario and Hell or High Water share some similarities: the two stories are both set in the southern states of the US and the particular setting has a role in the narrative. Also, both movies are quite slow – the plots are allowed to unravel by themselves, the films are never rushed and the important moments aren’t just montaged through.

Hell or High Water’s story is also really successful in its emotional appeal. It deals with the universal topic of family and explores the relationship between two brothers superbly. It also does a good job of making the viewers sympathize with all the characters. I, personally, wanted the brother to succeed, even though they were criminals, and I also wanted the two rangers to succeed in their quest.

These sympathies arose from the subtle character development, which was dispersed throughout the whole film. By listening to the dialogue and seemingly random banter we find out a lot about the characters: we discovered the reason for the heists and why the brothers seemed to have an estranged relationship. The friendly teasing between the rangers helped us to get a few hints into the history of the two law-enforcers – we uncovered the ancestry of one of them and the approaching retirement of the other.

Lastly, I really loved the way the ending of the film was written. I always enjoy this type of open-ending when it is done right. Sometimes, when the movie just ends abruptly, without answering any questions, the whole story falls flat but, when the film leaves you with just one or few unresolved issues, like Hell or High Water did, the narrative both finishes and is permitted to live on in the minds of those who witnessed it. Both the characters and the viewers will be haunted by this story.

Directing

A Scottish director David Mackenzie did a magnificent job directing Hell or High Water. He utilized the setting of Texas splendidly and showed the rural areas, the open spaces and the little beat-up towns in long and extremely long tracking shots. He also gave the story a lot of breathing room – although every scene was carefully and beautifully crafted, the movie seemed to flow very organically and naturally. The feature’s color plate was also really nice – warm tons filled the screen and made every shot look like an old vintage photograph.

I also loved all the shots were the modernity and the traditional old-school ways of life were juxtaposed. The setting of Texas, where people still live in old ranches and work with cattle and horses but also have modern gas pumps, was an appropriate location for this juxtaposition. To me, the scene in the gas station was amazing – not only did it have us that unexpected fight but we also got a frame with both a horse and a cowboy and a new sports car with two fake gangster youngsters. Lastly, the fact that everybody seemed to have a gun in the film was not only a funny aspect of the movie but also a very realistic one.

Music

Hell or High Water’s soundtrack by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis really added to the atmosphere of the film. Fitting to the setting of Texas, the film’s visuals were accompanied by cool country music. The picture also had this really nice instrumental theme to supplement the long tracking shots of the characters driving or moving through a frame in any other way.

Acting

  • Jeff Bridges as Marcus Hamilton, a Texas Ranger was amazing. The way he delivered the jokes and teased other characters was truly enjoyable to watch. It’s probably one of Bridges best performances out of the recent years because he did have a few flops lately, like The Giver or Seventh Son. I hope this role is the signal that he is back on track and I do hope that his contribution to Kingsman 2, coming out next year, will be worth the wait.
  • Chris Pine as Toby Howard was also really good. I’m starting to like Pine more and more in these rugged, less clean-cut and more challenging roles. Yes, he is also good in Hollywood blockbusters, like Star Trek and Into the Woods, but is more fun to see him try something different. A few recent smaller films of his that I suggest you watch are Z for Zachariah and The Finest Hours. Of course, let’s not forget to check out his blockbuster work too – Wonder Woman is only 10 months away.
  • Ben Foster as Tanner Howard was also really good. I’ve only recently started noticing him in films, the last one being The Program, in which he played the lead role of Lance Amstrong. In a few weeks, Foster will also play the main antagonist in Inferno, which I’m also looking forward too.
  • Gil Birmingham as Alberto Parker, Hamilton’s partner was also really good. I hope that the teases that his character received weren’t too offensive to both Mexicans and Native Americans. I really loved his speech about how the white colonialists took everything from his character’s people, only to lose the winnings of the pillage to the banks.

In short, Hell or High Water is one of the best films of the year so far. It’s masterfully crafted and slow, but immensely engaging. The acting is amazing, the writing is spectacular and the directing – excellent. A must watch for any fans of Westerns and heist movies.

Rate: 5/5

Trailer: Hell or High Water trailer

P.S. Weirdly, my next movie review will also be that of a Western – The Magnificient Seven.

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