The actor Taylor Sheridan has written three recent films, and he has emerged as one of America’s most important filmmakers. The three movies are Sicario, Hell or High Water and Wind River (which is his directorial debut – I’m not counting the low budget horror film Vile). I named Hell or High Water as the very best movie of 2016.
Here are some observations about Sheridan’s movies so far.
Western settings: This is the most obvious Sheridan signature: Sicario is set on the border between Mexico and Texas and New Mexico. Hell or High Water is set in West Texas (but primarily shot in New Mexico). Wind River is set in Wyoming. Sheridan, very comfortable with wide open spaces, grew up on a ranch outside the hamlet of Cranfills Gap, Texas, between Fort Worth and Waco. He isolates his characters in sparsely populated landscapes under Big Skies. But he’s not sentimental – the Mexican border city in Sicario and the Indian Reservation in Wind River are horrible places.
Great dialogue: From “Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.” to “Fasten your seatbelts, it’s going to be a bumpy night!” to “Forget it, Jake. It’s Chinatown,” great movies are known for iconic dialogue. Sheridan is reviving that lost art.
From Hell or High Water:
Toby: “You’re talkin’ like you don’t think we’re going to get away with it.”
Tanner: “I never met anyone who got away with anything.”
And from Wind River:
“Who’s the victim today? Looks like it’s gonna be me.”
“This isn’t the land of backup, Jane. This is the land of you’re on your own.”
Resists the easy: Sicario revolves around a fish-out-of water female cop, but he doesn’t mate her her with one of the male stars. In Hell or High Water, Toby insures the family’s security – but that isn’t enough for his ex-wife to take him back. In Wind River, Cory and Jane meet cute (in a way) but don’t fall into bed; and Cory’s ex-wife doesn’t comfort him, either.
Not everything is going to be okay: Sheridan knows how to craft a satisfying movie ending, but it’s not going to Happily Ever After for everyone. In Hell or High Water, the action that brings peace to Chris Pine’s character brings eternal unease to Jef Bridges’.
Wind River’s reservation still devoid of hope. Sicario’s border region is still poisioned by drugs and the drug war.
Populist politics: Sheridan hates that, in much of our society, people are disposable. Sheridan explores this theme with the victims of the drug wars in Sicario, the flyover-state working class in Hell or High Water and the Native Americans on the reservation in Wind River.
It’s an impressive body of work from Sheridan. I’m looking forward to his next screenplays, a follow-up to Sicario named Soldado and a TV drama titled Yellowstone.