Stream of the Week: WIND RIVER – another masterpiece from Taylor Sheridan

Elizabeth Olsen and Jeremy Renner in WIND RIVER

With the contemporary Western thriller Wind River, screenwriter Taylor Sheridan has delivered another masterpiece, this time in his first effort as director. Wind River was probably my most anticipated film of the year because I pegged Sheridan’s previous movie Hell or High Water as the best movie of 2016. Wind River doesn’t disappoint and is one of the best movies of 2017.

The story is set in and around Wyoming’s Wind River Indian Reservation. Cory (Jeremy Renner) is a professional hunter who finds the body of a native American teenage girl. To find out what happened to her and who is responsible, the tribal police chief Ben (Graham Greene) calls for help from the feds. That assistance arrives in the form of FBI agent Jane (Elizabeth Olsen), an inexperienced city slicker who has no clue how to survive in the lethal elements of the wild country. She is canny enough to understand that she needs the help of Cory, who knows every inch of the back country. He has his own reason – very important to the story – to solve the mystery, and the unlikely duo embark on a dangerous investigation, which they know will end in a man hunt.

The man hunt leads to a violent set piece that Sheridan directs masterfully. There’s a sudden escalation of tension, then apparent relief and then an explosion of action. Deadly chaos envelops several characters, but we’re able to follow it all clearly, while we’re on the edges of our seats.

Jeremy Renner’s performance as Cory is brilliant. Cory is a man whose life has been redirected by a family tragedy. He’s a Western stoic of few words, but – unusual for his type – an individual who deals with his grief in a very specific and self-aware way. Playing a character who reloads his own rounds, Renner is able to deliver hard-ass, determined efficiency along with some unexpected tenderness.

Olsen is also very good as Jane who understands that she may appear to be the bottom of the FBI’s barrel because she is a woman and very green and tiny. Resolute and spunky, she moves past what others might take as a slight because no unaided outsider is going to be able to navigate the harsh environment and the culture of the reservation. She isn’t trying to make a name for herself, but just to take responsibility in the old-fashioned way that we would expect from characters played by Glenn Ford, Gregory Peck, John Wayne and Clint Eastwood. She’s got to do the right thing.

As Martin, the dead girl’s father, Gil Birmingham (Hell or High Water) has two unforgettable scenes. His first scene is phenomenal first scene, as he processes the worst possible news with an outside Jane, and then with his friend Cory. Graham Greene and Tantoo Cardinal are also excellent. Kelsey Asbille and Jon Bernthal are also stellar in a flashback of the crime.

Sheridan and cinematographer Ben Richardson (Beasts of the Southern Wild) make great use of the Big Sky country, with the jagged topography of its mountains and the feral frigidity of its forests. Wind River opens as Cory hunts in spectacular postcard scenery; when we first see the reservation, we are jarred – this is a very bad place.

Taylor Sheridan has a gift for writing great, great movie dialogue:

      “Who’s the victim today? Looks like it’s gonna be me.”

and

     “This isn’t the land of backup, Jane. This is the land of you’re on your own.”

When Cory says, “This isn’t about Emily”, we know that this is precisely about Emily. When Cory says, “I’m a hunter”, we know exactly what his intentions are – and so does Martin.

Sheridan hates that, in much of our society, people are disposable. He has explored that theme in Sicario, Hell or High Water and now Wind River. Wind River begins with a title explaining that the story is inspired by actual events, and ends with a particularly horrifying non-statistic.  I’ve also written an essay on Sheridan’s filmmaking signatures, the films of Tayler Sheridan.

Smart, layered and intelligent, Wind River is another success from one of America’s fastest-rising filmmakers. It’s now available to stream from Amazon, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube and Google Play.

WIND RIVER: another masterpiece from Taylor Sheridan

Elizabeth Olsen and Jeremy Renner in WIND RIVER

With the contemporary Western thriller Wind River, screenwriter Taylor Sheridan has delivered another masterpiece, this time in his first effort as director. Wind River was probably my most anticipated film of the year because I pegged Sheridan’s previous movie Hell or High Water as the best movie of 2016Wind River doesn’t disappoint.

The story is set in and around Wyoming’s Wind River Indian Reservation.  Cory (Jeremy Renner) is a professional hunter who finds the body of a native American teenage girl.  To find out what happened to her and who is responsible, the tribal police chief Ben (Graham Greene) calls for help from the feds.  That assistance arrives in the form of FBI agent Jane (Elizabeth Olsen), an inexperienced city slicker who has no clue how to survive in the lethal elements of the wild country.  She is canny enough to understand that she needs the help of Cory, who knows every inch of the back country.  He has his own reason – very important to the story – to solve the mystery, and the unlikely duo embark on a dangerous investigation, which they know will end in a man hunt.

The man hunt leads to a violent set piece that Sheridan directs masterfully.  There’s a sudden escalation of tension, then apparent relief and then an explosion of action.  Deadly chaos envelops several characters, but we’re able to follow it all clearly, while we’re on the edges of our seats.

Jeremy Renner’s performance as Cory is brilliant.  Cory is a man whose life has been redirected by a family tragedy.  He’s a Western stoic of few words, but – unusual for his type – an individual who deals with his grief in a very specific and self-aware way.  Playing a character who reloads his own rounds, Renner is able to deliver hard-ass, determined efficiency along with some unexpected tenderness.

Olsen is also very good as Jane who understands that she may appear to be the bottom of the FBI’s barrel because she is a woman and very green and tiny.  Resolute and spunky, she moves past what others might take as a slight because no unaided outsider is going to be able to navigate the harsh environment and the culture of the reservation.  She isn’t trying to make a name for herself, but just to take responsibility in the old-fashioned way that we would expect from characters played by Glenn Ford, Gregory Peck, John Wayne and Clint Eastwood.  She’s got to do the right thing.

As Martin, the dead girl’s father, Gil Birmingham (Hell or High Water) has two unforgettable scenes. His first scene is phenomenal first scene, as he processes the worst possible news with an outside Jane, and then with his friend Cory.   Graham Greene and Tantoo Cardinal are also excellent.   Kelsey Asbille and Jon Bernthal are also stellar in a flashback of the crime.

Sheridan and cinematographer Ben Richardson (Beasts of the Southern Wild) make great use of the Big Sky country, with the jagged topography of its mountains and the feral frigidity of its forests.  Wind River opens as Cory hunts in spectacular postcard scenery; when we first see the reservation, we are jarred  – this is a very bad place.

Taylor Sheridan has a gift for writing great, great movie dialogue:

      “Who’s the victim today? Looks like it’s gonna be me.”

and

      “This isn’t the land of backup, Jane.  This is the land of you’re on your own.”

When Cory says, “This isn’t about Emily”, we know that this is precisely about Emily.  When Cory says, “I’m a hunter”, we know exactly what his intentions are – and so does Martin.

Sheridan hates that, in much of our society, people are disposable. He has explored that theme in Sicario, Hell or High Water and now Wind River. Wind River begins with a title explaining that the story is inspired by actual events, and ends with a particularly horrifying non-statistic.

Smart, layered and intelligent, Wind River is another success from one of America’s fastest-rising filmmakers.

DVD/Stream of the Week: American Hustle

american hustleWhy is American Hustle so gloriously entertaining? It’s certainly successful as a con man movie, as a 70s period piece and as a fast-paced (sometimes almost screwball) comedy. But I think the key is that writer-director David O. Russell develops such compelling characters – lots of them – and they’re so endearingly wacky, we just need to see what happens next. That’s the recipe he used in last year’s triumph Silver Linings Playbook (and in his under-appreciated 1996 Flirting with Disaster).

American Hustle opens with the wonderfully sly disclaimer “Some of this actually happened”, and then we see Christian Bale assembling the worst comb-over in cinematic history – and we’re hooked. The story follows the arc of the real-life Abscam scandal with the FBI forcing con artists to sting elected officials in an outlandish bribery-by-phony-sheik scheme. Bale plays an unattractive yet magnetic con man. Amy Adams is his tough and sexy partner. Bradley Cooper is their hyper-ambitious FBI handler.

As we would expect, Bale, Adams and Cooper are all fun to watch with this material. But Russell ‘s cast is very deep – the secondary and tertiary characters are just as fun. Jennifer Lawrence is a force of nature as Bale’s estranged wife, who takes passive aggressiveness to an entirely unforeseen level. Jeremy Renner (The Hurt Locker) almost steals the picture as an extremely sympathetic and good-hearted local pol who doesn’t see what’s coming. And Louis C.K. is hilarious as Cooper’s put-upon boss; as he did so successfully in Blue Jasmine, C.K. plays the character completely straight and lets the material generate the laughs; many comedians make the mistake of trying to act funny in movie comedies, but C.K. has a real gift for the lethal dead pan.

American Hustle plants us firmly in the late 1970s with an especially evocative score and very fun costumes and hair. Besides Bale’s comb-over, we enjoy the tightly permed curls of Adams and Cooper, along with Lawrence’s Jersey updo. And Adams and Lawrence sport an unceasing series of dresses with severely plunging necklines.

Funny and gripping at the same time, with scads of movie stars at their very best, American Hustle is a surefire good time at the movies.   American Hustle is now available on DVD frpm Netflix and streaming from Amazon, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube and Google Play.

American Hustle: gloriously entertaining

american hustleWhy is American Hustle so gloriously entertaining?  It’s certainly successful as a con man movie, as a 70s period piece and as a fast-paced (sometimes almost screwball) comedy.  But I think the key is that writer-director David O. Russell develops such compelling characters – lots of them – and they’re so endearingly wacky, we just need to see what happens next.  That’s the recipe he used in last year’s triumph Silver Linings Playbook (and in his under-appreciated 1996 Flirting with Disaster).

American Hustle opens with the wonderfully sly disclaimer “Some of this actually happened”, and then we see Christian Bale assembling the worst comb-over in cinematic history – and we’re hooked.  The story follows the arc of the real-life Abscam scandal with the FBI forcing con artists to sting elected officials in an outlandish bribery-by-phony-sheik scheme.  Bale plays an unattractive yet magnetic con man.  Amy Adams is his tough and sexy partner.  Bradley Cooper is their hyper-ambitious FBI handler.

As we would expect, Bale, Adams and Cooper are all fun to watch with this material.  But Russell ‘s cast is very deep – the secondary and tertiary characters are just as fun.  Jennifer Lawrence is a force of nature as Bale’s estranged wife, who takes passive aggressiveness to an entirely unforeseen level.  Jeremy Renner (The Hurt Locker) almost steals the picture as an extremely sympathetic and good-hearted local pol who doesn’t see what’s coming.  And Louis C.K. is hilarious as Cooper’s put-upon boss;  as he did so successfully in Blue Jasmine, C.K. plays the character completely straight and lets the material generate the laughs; many comedians make the mistake of trying to act funny in movie comedies, but C.K. has a real gift for the lethal dead pan.

American Hustle plants us firmly in the late 1970s with an especially evocative score and very fun costumes and hair.   Besides Bale’s comb-over, we enjoy the tightly permed curls of Adams and Cooper, along with Lawrence’s Jersey updo.  And Adams and Lawrence sport an unceasing series of dresses with severely plunging necklines.

Funny and gripping at the same time, with scads of movie stars at their very best, American Hustle is a surefire good time at the movies.

The Town

Ben Affleck knows Boston, which is the best thing about this crime drama about thieves desperately evading the FBI.  The Town is a well made, satisfying Hollywood action thriller, but nothing more.  The movie really had me hooked through the second act with the world of Irish professional criminals in Charleston, Mass.  But the end of the movie wraps up everything way too neatly.

Ben Affleck the actor, Mad Men’s Jon Hamm, Rebecca Hall, and The Hurt Locker‘s Jeremy Renner are all good.  Chris Cooper is excellent in a five-minute scene.

Ben Affleck proved in Gone Baby Gone that he can be a fine director, and hopefully he will reach that standard again.

The Town

The trailer for The Town has just been released:

Ben Affleck proved in Gone Baby Gone that he is a fine director.  Now, in The Town,  he brings us another Boston crime drama about thieves desperately evading the FBI.  Stars Affleck, Mad Men’s Jon Hamm, Rebecca Hall, Chris Cooper and The Hurt Locker‘s Jeremy Renner.  Releases September 17.

Updated Movies I'm Looking Forward To

I’ve updated Movies I’m Looking Forward To with Kisses, Dinner for Schmucks, Cairo Time, and The Town.

Kisses is a promising Irish indie about two surburban tweens who run away to Dublin for a very scary night. Stephen Rea appears as a Bob Dylan impersonator.   Kisses releases more widely on August 6.

Ben Affleck proved in Gone Baby Gone that he is a fine director.  Now, in The Town,  he brings us another Boston crime drama about thieves desperately evading the FBI.  Stars Affleck, Mad Men’s Jon Hamm, Rebecca Hall, Chris Cooper and The Hurt Locker‘s Jeremy Renner.  Releases September 17.

Ben Affleck and Jeremy Renner in The Town