Taylor Sheridan

Wind River

18/09/17

In a moonlit pre-credit sequence, a young native American woman flees across a snowbound landscape, barefoot and gasping for breath. It’s an arresting introduction, one which certainly grabs the viewer’s attention. This bleak and rather melancholic slowburner is based around the resulting investigation into the woman’s death, carried out on the remote Wind River reservation in Wyoming. Inspired by true events, it’s written and directed by Taylor Sheridan (author of Sicario and Hell and High Water). The events unfold in inhospitable mountainous landscapes, which are beautifully captured by Ben Richardson’s sweeping cinematography.

The woman’s body is found by veteran tracker, Cory Lambert (Jeremy Renner), out hunting wolves. He instantly recognises the dead woman as Natalie, the former best friend of his late daughter who herself died in suspicious circumstances, something that Lambert has never fully come to terms with. FBI agent Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen) is assigned to handle the investigation, arriving at the location dressed in high heels and severely ill-equipped to deal with the hostile weather conditions. She wisely enlists Lambert (and his snowmobile) to get her from place to place in order to talk to Natalie’s family and to help her interview the list of potential suspects.

Renner and Olsen submit moving performances and manage to generate some real chemistry between them, and there’s a heartfelt (and never patronising) view of the local Native American’s plight as they struggle to survive in a world that has robbed them of everything they ever valued. There are nice turns from Apesanahkwat as world-weary tribal police chief, Dan Crowheart, and from Graham Greene as the dead girl’s father, Ben, struggling to understand the iniquities of life on a reservation.

A pity, then, that the final third of the movie squanders all these good intentions by making an abrupt detour into much more cliched territory – there’s an extended gunfight, some harsh ‘eye-for-an-eye’ vengeance, a horribly graphic rape scene and men generally a-doin’ what men gotta do – at least in Sheridan’s macho world view. It’s almost as though two quite different movies have been clumsily stitched together. 

Wind River is worth seeing for that ravishing location photography and those appealing performances, but there’s the distinct conviction that it would have been a better film if it had stuck to its guns, rather than firing them off in all directions.

3.8 stars

Philip Caveney

Hell or High Water

hell-or-high-water

30/09/16

Brothers, Toby and Tanner Howard (Chris Pine and Ben Foster) are industriously robbing a series of small banks in West Texas and going to great lengths to conceal all evidence of their crimes. They aren’t doing it for the usual reasons, though, but in a desperate attempt to pay off a crippling loan on their late mother’s ranch, in order to secure the future of Toby’s two sons from his failed marriage. When the robberies come to the attention of aging Texas Ranger, Marcus Hamilton, (Jeff Bridges), he resolves to solve one last case before he retires…

Hell Or High Water is a searing look at the underbelly of America, where ordinary people struggle to make ends meet and where the real criminals (at least in the view of writer Taylor Sheridan) are the bankers, who make a rich living from foreclosing on those who can no longer afford to pay for their homes. It’s a side of the USA we rarely glimpse in movie theatres and for that at least, it deserves our attention. There’s plenty here to enjoy. Bridges excels as the crusty-as-last-month’s-tortillas lawman, forever bickering with his Native American partner, Alberto (Gil Parker), while lamenting a way of life that seems as doomed as the ranchers we glimpse herding their cattle away from a raging brushfire. And can we really take wholeheartedly against the Tanner brothers, when they are in such a desperate plight?

This is an unapologetically elegiac story, as stripped and spare as the desert landscapes in which the events take place – but as with Sheridan’s previous script, Sicario, it’s almost exclusively a man’s world and you’ll have to look very hard indeed to spot a properly developed female character. Forget the Bechdel test – all we are offered here is a parade of hookers, harpies and harridans – a shame, because just like Sicario, this is an otherwise assured production, strong on action and the hard bitten verbal interplay between its main characters.

The ending hints at unfinished business but wisely leaves us wanting closure. It’s a lean, taut action movie but the inclusion of some decent female characters would have lent it more depth, and assured it a higher score from yours truly. It’s good, but ultimately a bit of a missed opportunity.

3.8 stars

Philip Caveney