Sunday, August 13, 2017

Wind River - Review

Wind River

"Wind River" is a film based on true events written and directed by Taylor Sheridan. Sheridan started his career in acting, appearing in small films and in recurring roles in TV shows such as Veronica Mars, Walker, Texas Ranger and most notably as Deputy David Hale in FX Network’s Sons of Anarchy. But in recent years Sheridan has taken his talents in a different direction in the way of a feature film screenwriter. In 2015 he coined the smart and edgy screenplay dialogue in the sleeper hit “Sicario” starring Emile Blunt and Bernicio Del Toro (of which he is writing the sequel called “Soldaldo”). His follow up effort to “Sicario” was the screenplay for the Oscar nominated film “Hell or High Water” which garnered him an Oscar nomination in the Best Original Screenplay category. Now, Sheridan offers up not only his superb writing skills but also his debut as a film director in the film “Wind River” which won him the 2017 Cannes Film Festival Best Director Award. 
“Wind River” stars Jeremy Renner as a US Fish and Wildlife Service agent named Cory Lambert, both a simple man and a tortured soul from being divorced from his Native American wife. Still he goes out each day taking pride in his work ridding humanely the parks and reservations of the few predatory animals that kill farmers live stock in the winter rural areas and mountains of Wyoming.

PLOT: On a cold snowy morning while looking for “lions” (aka Mountain Lions) Cory discovers a body of a young Native American woman named Natalie on the rugged Wind River Indian Reservation. She was best friends with Cory’s daughter and family friend to Native American Martin (Gil Birmingham who was TX Ranger Alberto in “Hell or High Water”).

Cory immediately calls for local tribal police Chief “Ben” (Graham Greene aka as “Kicking Bird” in “Dances with Wolves”) to deliver the news, who believes she may have been the victim initially of a crime on Federal land. Chief Ben decides to send for the FBI to investigate in the way of a rookie FBI Agent named Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen) out of Nevada.  Agent Banner is smart and fearless and attempts earnestly to take charge of the investigation. But because she appears to be somewhat unprepared to dealing with the cultural differences on the Indian Reservation and the unusual harshness of the ever oppressive weather and isolation of Wyoming she employs Cory to be both her partner and tracker of the unusual question confronting them about Natalie’s murder. How does someone freeze to death barefoot with the nearest home 6 miles away and no signs of how she got there? Together Cory and Banner venture deep into a world ravaged by violence and the elements.

REVIEW: Wind River, is not as good as Sicario or Hell or High Water, but it is still one of the best films I have seen for 2017. Sheridan’s work here is pure modern film noir filled with darkness and yet very stylish in its visual effect. Sheridan’s delivers his third stellar screenplay in a row with his Wind River sounding more at times like poetic grace and yet still brilliantly and grittily aligned with telling a modern story revolving around his Native American subjects. He also manages to double down on his plot to not only solving Natalie’s murder but to surreptitiously examine with authentic feelings how his central characters (for various reasons) appear to be in a perpetually state of struggle about their lives, as well as astutely examining how good people deal with unexpected grief and personal loss. But the real strength of the film is Sheridan’s adroit patience not to rush his story. He slowly executes his “Wind River” in a way that keeps the viewing audience riveted and focused on the various characters without any flash or false surprise. And yet there are a few good moments that will come at you not only very fast and very furious, they come totally unexpected.

Overall “Wind River” is very low key and subdued in its execution and yet each frame felt fresh, dynamic and richly grounded in a quiet raw intensity as it methodically goes through the working paces of who killed Natalie. Sheridan asks his characters to “live in each scene” and not simply act in them. Jeremy Renner delivers his best performance since “The Town” delivering both the lonesome old cowboy persona and yet being very much a very modern working man who gets up each day to ride off to work on his snowmobile.

“Wind River” is a very solid murder mystery thriller. But the greatest revelation to this film is watching Taylor Sheridan go from being a decent actor to truly putting his stamp in Hollywood not only as a very gifted writer, creating some of the best dialogue in recent memory, but also quite masterful in directing his own words with equal aplomb.

If you see this, absorb the patience of the story telling, its a good thing. Meanwhile a Sheridan star is born.  

4 Stars

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Detroit - Review


From the Academy Award winning Director Kathryn Bigelow of “The Hurt Locker” and “Zero Dark Thirty”, she comes states side to offer her latest effort simply “Detroit”. A gripping true story of one of the darkest moments during the civil unrest that rocked Detroit.

In the summer of 1967, rioting and civil unrest starts to tear apart the city of Detroit. Two days later, a report of gunshots prompts the Detroit Police Department, the Michigan State Police and the Michigan Army National Guard to search and seize an annex of the nearby Algiers Motel. Several policemen start to flout procedure by forcefully and viciously interrogating guests to get a confession. By the end of the night, three unarmed African American men are gunned down – shot in the back while several others are brutally beaten.

REVIEW: With a running time of 2:24, “Detroit” tries to make the large case throughout the entire film that there was a moral injustice done against the three victims as well as the entire African American community that summer, which in and of itself is not hard to reenact. The film clearly draws the lines where one side of the human equation has the guns and badges and the other side of the human equation are constantly fearing for their lives while being beaten, perpetually threaten with guns and frequently called derogatory names as casually as putting out a cigarette with the tip of one’s shoe. So, in that respect, Bigelow can claim mission accomplished, job well done in her “Detroit”.

But while her portrayal of that injustice at times were glaringly powerful and even comparatively speaking eerily similar - current to recent events we all have heard about in the news, Bigelow's attention to just the injustice stops the film from being emotionally probative to eventually feeling only like an exercise in just how numbing and exhausting she can make the audience feel by the Detroit police perpetually asking the same question of “where is the gun is" over and over and over and over again while simultaneously engaging in brutality and murder. The result is the films starts to flounder under the flawed weight of watching teenagers only just trying to survive the entire night by uniformed licensed invaders with the authority of their badges and guns with nonstop racial torture.

Don’t get me wrong “Detroit” has some maddening, harrowing and blistering moments where you skin will boil with anger, but what’s missing is the agility to provide much larger and more in depth emotional narratives of how all of these people were something other than human criminals verses helpless victims. We see plenty of suffering and evil, plenty of fear and lying, but nothing much beyond those attributes to bring the story to some full circle of understanding. 

Still, “Detroit’ is definitely worth seeing and I have a sense it could be in the running for a Best Picture Nomination (maybe). It is excruciatingly and dreadfully tense to watch, as well also very necessary for many people today to see, especially for those who are under the age of 50.

As a whole the film encapsulates a unique period of time in recent American history where certain groups of people, people of color to be specific, may have been born in the United States. They may have been educated and gotten a good job in the United States. They may have been married and had children in the United States. They may even have become very old and died in the United States. And yet even with a detailed description such as this of what sounds on paper like the atypical “good American life” with the constitutional guaranteed protected words,…………………..  “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal”…………….I wonder, for those who lived through that hot 1967 summer night; that awful tortuous and murderous night, do they still wonder all these years later if they were ever truly, fully accepted as Americans in the United States.

3.75 Stars