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.

A plea from The Movie Gourmet for Critics’ Awards and the Oscars

Lily Gladstone in CERTAIN WOMEN
Lily Gladstone in CERTAIN WOMEN

I’m always worried that the work of deserving filmmakers will get overlooked by the Academy Awards. It’s time for the critic’s awards, which can prompt Oscar nominations. And I have some opinions about some nuggets that should be recognized.

BEST PICTURE

I’m glad to see the San Francisco Film Critics Circle at least shortlisted Hell or High Water as a finalist for Best Picture. It’s getting overlooked among all the Holiday Prestige Movies, but it’s my pick for the best film of the year.

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE

  • Lily Gladstone’s heartrending performance is the most indelible in Certain Women, a movie co-starring much more recognizable actresses (Laura Dern, Michelle Williams and Kristen Stewart).
  • You can imagine the entire back story of Katy Mixon’s waitress in Hell or High Water, a gal who is fiercely determined to hang on to her tip, no matter what.
  • The absolutely irreplaceable Margo Martindale is the heart of The Hollars.
  • Michelle Williams doesn’t need any help from me to be nominated for her six or seven heartbreaking minutes in Manchester by the Sea.
Alan Rickman in EYE IN THE SKY
Alan Rickman in EYE IN THE SKY

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE

  • The late Alan Rickman is more than a sentimental choice for a posthumous award for Eye in the Sky; it’s one of the best performances by any actor this year.
  • Simon Helberg’s hilarious non-verbal reactions are actually the funniest part of Florence Foster Jenkins.
  • I would also recognize Devin Druid in Louder Than Bombs;  it’s easy to overlook even the most brilliant portrayals of teenage boys who don’t talk much and sure don’t show their feelings (like Miles Teller in Rabbit Hole or James Frecheville in Animal Kingdom).
  • Michael Shannon is the best thing about Nocturnal Animals.
  • Jeff Bridges should get another nomination for his superb performance in Hell or High Water.

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE

  • Isabelle Huppert’s performance in Elle is so astonishingly sui generis, it is so essential to the movie’s success and she has such an amazing body of work, that I can’t imagine her not winning this Oscar. It doesn’t help that, as usual, there’s shortage of other excellent roles for women.
  • I loved Imogen Poot in Frank & Lola. The entire movie hinges on whether she is a Bad Girl or a Troubled Girl, and she plays it credibly both ways.

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE

  • Like Huppert, Casey Affleck is a deserving lock to win the Oscar for Manchester by the Sea.
  • But, in Hell or High WaterChris Pine finally got to act in a complex, textured role and he really delivered.  Deserves a nod.

BEST WRITING, ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

  • Kenneth Lonergan will certainly snag a nomination for Manchester by the Sea.
  • So I am campaigning for Taylor Sheridan and his masterpiece screenplay for Hell or High Water.
Jeff Bridges and Katy Mixon in HELL OR HIGH WATER
Jeff Bridges and Katy Mixon in HELL OR HIGH WATER

 

Richard Jenkins and Margo Martindale in THE HOLLARS
Richard Jenkins and Margo Martindale in THE HOLLARS

DVD/Stream of the Week: HELL OR HIGH WATER – you won’t see a better movie in 2016

Chris Pine in HELL OR HIGH WATER
Chris Pine in HELL OR HIGH WATER

For the second straight week, my DVD/Stream recommendation is the superb 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.”

The character-driven crime drama Hell or High Water is remarkably atmospheric and gripping, and I have it at the very top of my Best Movies of 2016 – So Far. As it begins, we think we’re watching a very well-made film about white trash losers on a crime spree, but eventually, as we understand how original the characters are and how intricate the plot is, we understand that we’re watching a triumph of the perfect crime genre – and with an embedded political point of view. Screenwriter Taylor Sheridan, an actor who wrote last year’s Sicario, has proven that he is an artist of uncommon depth.

Director David Mackenzie imbues Hell or High Water with an astonishing sense of time (the present) and place (rural West Texas). The story is set in the dusty flatlands between Lubbock and Wichita Falls (shot just over the border in eastern New Mexico). Mackenzie employs Giles Nuttgens’ cinematography and the music, some composed by Nick Cave, to evoke an environment that is rich in horizons but, except in the bursts of occasional oil booms, dirt poor in every way. He begins Hell or High Water with a 360 degree shot of a bank branch parking lot with a teller sneaking the last cigarette before her shift; the starkness and anonymity of the dying downtown immerses us right where Mackenzie wants us.

It’s a place where people know the difference between Dr. Pepper and Mr. Pibb – and it’s important. It’s also a place where many civilians are gun-totin’, which adds a whole new element to the average bank robbery.

Toby (Chris Pine) and Tanner (Ben Foster) are brothers. Toby is the more complex – both poorly educated and wise. While Toby takes personal responsibility for the bad choices of his youth that have ruined a marriage and left him unable to contribute to the future of his two sons, he appreciates that generational poverty and the economic system have stacked the odds against him. Toby cared for his dying mother and is now committed to making things right for his sons and ex-wife; he is highly moral but he’s not about to follow rules that he sees as unjust. He looks like another unemployed oilfield roughneck, but he’s surprisingly cagey and strategic.

Tanner is the classic lowlife psychopath, whose impulses have always led him into trouble with the law. Asked “How have you stayed out of jail for a year?”, Tanner replies, “It’s been difficult.” He’s also a little smarter and lot more charming than he looks, but it’s clear that he is destined for a bad end.

Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges), an aged Texas ranger who is three weeks from retirement, is on the brothers’ trail. Marcus is an astute and unsentimental student of human behavior. Marcus relishes a good whodunit, and the wheels in his mind are always turning. His partner Alberto (Gil Birmingham) offers that, for a happy retirement “you’ll need someone to outsmart”. Indeed, it’s from Marcus, not the brothers themselves, that we learn that the bank robbers are likely raising money for some cause, against some deadline

In Hell or High Water, the banks are the real robbers. Marcus spots a bank manager with “Now this looks like a man who could foreclose on a house”. In the world of Bonnie and Clyde, victims of the Depression lost farms to foreclosure, but many banks failed, too; that movie’s anti-heroes were misfits like Tanner. In the world of Hell or High Water, the game is fixed so that the banks can’t fail, and so banking is just legalized criminality.

Jeff Bridges and Gil Birmingham in HELL OR HIGH WATER
Jeff Bridges and Gil Birmingham in HELL OR HIGH WATER

Hell or High Water is exceptionally well-acted. This is the best work so far by Chris Pine (Kirk in Star Trek). Ben Foster, unsurprisingly, nails the Born To Lose character of Tanner. Gil Birmingham (Billy Black in the Twilight movies) is stellar as Marcus’ reflective and long-suffering partner Alberto. Jeff Bridges has matured into a master actor who delivers absolute perfection and makes it look effortless.

And the high quality performances just keep coming throughout Hell or High Water. The film opens with nice turns by Dale Dickey (unforgettable in Winter’s Bone) and veteran Buck Taylor. Marin Ireland is excellent as Toby’s ex-wife, and Margaret Bowman sparks a diner scene as the world’s most authoritarian waitress. Katy Mixon is Oscar-worthy in a role as a waitress who may long for companionship, but really, really needs to keep her tip; I just hope enough people see this movie and experience Mixon’s eyes narrowing and gleaming with resolve.

While Jeff Bridges is reason enough to see Hell or High Water, all of its elements add up to a masterpiece. Not that Chris Pine needs a star-making breakthrough performance, but Hell or High Water certainly proves that he can carry a better movie than Hollywood franchises allow. I’m going to see Hell or High Water again; then I’m going to line up to see Taylor Sheridan’s next film, whatever and whenever that will be.

Hell or High Water is now available to rent on DVD from Netflix and to stream from Amazon Instant, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube and Google Play.

DVD/Stream of the Week: HELL OR HIGH WATER – you won’t see a better movie in 2016

Chris Pine and Ben Foster in HELL OR HIGH WATER
Chris Pine and Ben Foster in 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.”

The character-driven crime drama Hell or High Water is remarkably atmospheric and gripping, and I have it at the very top of my Best Movies of 2016 – So Far. As it begins, we think we’re watching a very well-made film about white trash losers on a crime spree, but eventually, as we understand how original the characters are and how intricate the plot is, we understand that we’re watching a triumph of the perfect crime genre – and with an embedded political point of view. Screenwriter Taylor Sheridan, an actor who wrote last year’s Sicario, has proven that he is an artist of uncommon depth.

Director David Mackenzie imbues Hell or High Water with an astonishing sense of time (the present) and place (rural West Texas). The story is set in the dusty flatlands between Lubbock and Wichita Falls (shot just over the border in eastern New Mexico). Mackenzie employs Giles Nuttgens’ cinematography and the music, some composed by Nick Cave, to evoke an environment that is rich in horizons but, except in the bursts of occasional oil booms, dirt poor in every way. He begins Hell or High Water with a 360 degree shot of a bank branch parking lot with a teller sneaking the last cigarette before her shift; the starkness and anonymity of the dying downtown immerses us right where Mackenzie wants us.

It’s a place where people know the difference between Dr. Pepper and Mr. Pibb – and it’s important. It’s also a place where many civilians are gun-totin’, which adds a whole new element to the average bank robbery.

Toby (Chris Pine) and Tanner (Ben Foster) are brothers. Toby is the more complex – both poorly educated and wise. While Toby takes personal responsibility for the bad choices of his youth that have ruined a marriage and left him unable to contribute to the future of his two sons, he appreciates that generational poverty and the economic system have stacked the odds against him. Toby cared for his dying mother and is now committed to making things right for his sons and ex-wife; he is highly moral but he’s not about to follow rules that he sees as unjust. He looks like another unemployed oilfield roughneck, but he’s surprisingly cagey and strategic.

Tanner is the classic lowlife psychopath, whose impulses have always led him into trouble with the law. Asked “How have you stayed out of jail for a year?”, Tanner replies, “It’s been difficult.” He’s also a little smarter and lot more charming than he looks, but it’s clear that he is destined for a bad end.

Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges), an aged Texas ranger who is three weeks from retirement, is on the brothers’ trail. Marcus is an astute and unsentimental student of human behavior. Marcus relishes a good whodunit, and the wheels in his mind are always turning. His partner Alberto (Gil Birmingham) offers that, for a happy retirement “you’ll need someone to outsmart”. Indeed, it’s from Marcus, not the brothers themselves, that we learn that the bank robbers are likely raising money for some cause, against some deadline

In Hell or High Water, the banks are the real robbers. Marcus spots a bank manager with “Now this looks like a man who could foreclose on a house”. In the world of Bonnie and Clyde, victims of the Depression lost farms to foreclosure, but many banks failed, too; that movie’s anti-heroes were misfits like Tanner. In the world of Hell or High Water, the game is fixed so that the banks can’t fail, and so banking is just legalized criminality.

Jeff Bridges and Gil Birmingham in HELL OR HIGH WATER
Jeff Bridges and Gil Birmingham in HELL OR HIGH WATER

Hell or High Water is exceptionally well-acted. This is the best work so far by Chris Pine (Kirk in Star Trek). Ben Foster, unsurprisingly, nails the Born To Lose character of Tanner. Gil Birmingham (Billy Black in the Twilight movies) is stellar as Marcus’ reflective and long-suffering partner Alberto. Jeff Bridges has matured into a master actor who delivers absolute perfection and makes it look effortless.

And the high quality performances just keep coming throughout Hell or High Water. The film opens with nice turns by Dale Dickey (unforgettable in Winter’s Bone) and veteran Buck Taylor. Marin Ireland is excellent as Toby’s ex-wife, and Margaret Bowman sparks a diner scene as the world’s most authoritarian waitress. Katy Mixon is Oscar-worthy in a role as a waitress who may long for companionship, but really, really needs to keep her tip; I just hope enough people see this movie and experience Mixon’s eyes narrowing and gleaming with resolve.

While Jeff Bridges is reason enough to see Hell or High Water, all of its elements add up to a masterpiece. Not that Chris Pine needs a star-making breakthrough performance, but Hell or High Water certainly proves that he can carry a better movie than Hollywood franchises allow. I’m going to see Hell or High Water again; then I’m going to line up to see Taylor Sheridan’s next film, whatever and whenever that will be.

Hell or High Water is now available to rent on DVD from Netflix and to stream from Amazon Instant, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube and Google Play.

HELL OR HIGH WATER: best movie of the year so far

Chris Pine and Ben Foster in HELL OR HIGH WATER
Chris Pine and Ben Foster in 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.”

The character-driven crime drama Hell or High Water is remarkably atmospheric and gripping, and I’ll be putting it at the very top of my Best Movies of 2016 – So Far.  As it begins, we think we’re watching a very well-made film about white trash losers on a crime spree, but eventually, as we understand how original the characters are and how intricate the plot is, we understand that we’re watching a triumph of the perfect crime genre – and with an embedded political point of view.  Screenwriter Taylor Sheridan, an actor who wrote last year’s Sicario, has proven that he is an artist of uncommon depth.

Director David Mackenzie imbues Hell or High Water with an astonishing sense of time (the present) and place (rural West Texas).  The story is set in the dusty flatlands between Lubbock and Wichita Falls (shot just over the border in eastern New Mexico).    Mackenzie employs Giles Nuttgens’ cinematography and the music, some composed by Nick Cave, to evoke an environment that is rich in horizons but, except in the bursts of occasional oil booms, dirt poor in every way.  He begins Hell or High Water with a 360 degree shot of a bank branch parking lot with a teller sneaking the last cigarette before her shift; the starkness and anonymity of the dying downtown immerses us right where Mackenzie wants us.

It’s a place where people know the difference between Dr. Pepper and Mr. Pibb – and it’s important.  It’s also a place where many civilians are gun-totin’, which adds a whole new element to the average bank robbery.

Toby (Chris Pine) and Tanner (Ben Foster) are brothers.  Toby is the more complex – both poorly educated and wise.   While Toby takes personal responsibility for the bad choices of his youth that have ruined a marriage and left him unable to contribute to the future of his two sons, he appreciates that generational poverty and the economic system have stacked the odds against him.  Toby cared for his dying mother and is now committed to making things right for his sons and ex-wife; he is highly moral but he’s not about to follow rules that he sees as unjust.  He looks like another unemployed oilfield roughneck, but he’s surprisingly cagey and strategic.

Tanner is the classic lowlife psychopath, whose impulses have always led him into trouble with the law.  Asked “How have you stayed out of jail for a year?”, Tanner replies,  “It’s been difficult.”  He’s also a little smarter and lot more charming than he looks, but it’s clear that he is destined for a bad end.

Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges), an aged Texas ranger who is three weeks from retirement, is on the brothers’ trail.  Marcus is an astute and unsentimental student of human behavior.  Marcus relishes a good whodunit, and the wheels in his mind are always turning. His partner Alberto (Gil Birmingham) offers that, for a happy retirement “you’ll need someone to outsmart”.  Indeed, it’s from Marcus, not the brothers themselves, that we learn that the bank robbers are likely raising money for some cause, against some deadline

In Hell or High Water, the banks are the real robbers.  Marcus spots a bank manager with “Now this looks like a man who could foreclose on a house”. In the world of Bonnie and Clyde, victims of the Depression lost farms to foreclosure, but many banks failed, too; that movie’s anti-heroes were misfits like Tanner. In the world of Hell or High Water, the game is fixed so that the banks can’t fail, and so banking is just legalized criminality.

Jeff Bridges and Gil Birmingham in HELL OR HIGH WATER
Jeff Bridges and Gil Birmingham in HELL OR HIGH WATER

Hell or High Water is exceptionally well-acted. This is the best work so far by Chris Pine (Kirk in Star Trek). Ben Foster, unsurprisingly, nails the Born To Lose character of Tanner. Gil Birmingham (Billy Black in the Twilight movies) is stellar as Marcus’ reflective and long-suffering partner Alberto. Jeff Bridges has matured into a master actor who delivers absolute perfection and makes it look effortless.

And the high quality performances just keep coming throughout Hell or High Water. The film opens with nice turns by Dale Dickey (unforgettable in Winter’s Bone) and veteran Buck Taylor. Marin Ireland is excellent as Toby’s ex-wife, and Margaret Bowman sparks a diner scene as the world’s most authoritarian waitress. Katy Mixon is Oscar-worthy in a role as a waitress who may long for companionship, but really, really needs to keep her tip; I just hope enough people see this movie and experience Mixon’s eyes narrowing and gleaming with resolve.

While Jeff Bridges is reason enough to see Hell or High Water, all of its elements add up to a masterpiece.  Not that Chris Pine needs a star-making breakthrough performance, but Hell or High Water certainly proves that he can carry a better movie than Hollywood franchises allow.  I’m going to see Hell or High Water again; then I’m going to line up to see Taylor Sheridan’s next film, whatever and whenever that will be.