Wind River: Movie Man Jackson

Welcome to Wyoming. Wind River, to be exact. In this Indian Reservation lies a lot of cold, snowy weather and a constant air of misery for many who live here. US Fish and Wildlife Service agent/tracker Cory Lambert (Jeremy Renner) is called on to look into a situation that involves local cattle being killed by another predator. Upon his investigation, Lambert stumbles upon a frozen corpse, a corpse that wasn’t prepared for the harsh outside elements. Foul play is suspected.

The corpse is identified as Natalie Hanson, an 18 year-old resident of the reservation. Now a murder mystery, FBI rookie agent Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen) is called into the Wyoming setting to investigate. Ill-prepared for Wind River, Banner must rely on her instincts and the guile of Lambert to solve this case and bring justice to Natalie and her remaining family.

It’s clear that the modern day Western genre bears little resemblance to the Westerns of yesteryear inhabited by John Wayne, Walter Brennan, and the like. Instead, today’s movies that could be classified as Westerns take inspiration from that genre but homogenize with others; think SicarioHell or High Water, and now Wind River. All three of these movies share a common tie: the writing credit of Taylor Sheridan. With Wind River, Sheridan gets the opportunity to direct what he writes. The result is a crime feature that doesn’t quite match the brilliance of his most recent writing, but shows more than enough to see Sheridan mentioned in the same future conversation as his directing contemporaries.

Wind River is a little bit of a slow burn—almost agonizingly so—at least in the early going. Sheridan’s first act introduces a few details, but overall, it seems to serve as an environment setup more than real story setup. However, Wind River does kick into gear around the time the awesome Gil Birmingham comes into the frame. Unlike his somewhat light character in Hell or High Water, Birmingham plays a somber, detached Native American father trying to cope with what happened to his daughter. From here, the straightforward story finds its groove.

While not as thematically complex as his prior work, Sheridan uses Wind River, inspired by true events, to shine light on—albeit not without legitimate white hero controversy—many Native American reservations and the hopelessness/negligence that they may carry. They may not resemble the traditional looking ghettos, but the mental and draining effect this environment has on many of the movie’s characters is entirely the same, pushing them towards bad things or paralyzing inaction.

The environment is more of a living and breathing character than almost all in the movie. Technically, Sheridan isn’t perfect yet; some aforementioned early pacing issues exist. A prolonged flashback, although filling in what exactly happened, sort of comes out of nowhere. But, an old-fashioned Mexican standoff that evolves into a big set piece, and a mid-movie suspect visit stand as some of the year’s most tension-drenched moments.

Wind River does come up short in one half of the lead character department. That’s no indictment on Elizabeth Olsen, she makes the most of what is presented to her and carries enough chemistry with Jeremy. This is Renner’s movie, however, and credit goes to Sheridan for writing a very detailed lead in Cory Lambert with gradual backstory revealed that draws the audience closer to his personal journey. It would have been easy for Renner to play this as a Liam Neeson knockoff, but Renner doesn’t, instead opting for a realistic and everyman approach. He’s a cowboy without the gusto, but a believer in frontier justice. His work here is a reminder that Renner’s is more than just a 2nd team Avenger.

The water isn’t particularly deep or 100% purified in Wind River. But ultimately, it is compelling as a simple pseudo-Western crime feature.

B

Photo credits go to collider.com, cinemavine.com, and bleedingcool.com.

For additional detailed thoughts on films both small and large, games, and the key moments that comprise each, check out ThatMomentIn.com

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Hell or High Water: Movie Man Jackson

HoHW

Almost anything can be done with ruthless determination. Brothers Tanner Howard (Ben Foster) and Toby Howard (Chris Pine) have begun to rob banks in small towns of Texas. Robbery and crime comes easy for lifelong convict Tanner, but Toby, with no criminal record to speak of, is a little taken aback by the action. But it needs to be done in his mind. He owes a ton of child support to his ex-wife, and the Howard farm is up for foreclosure.

On the trail of the brotherly due is soon-to-be-retiree ranger Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges). Though unsaid, he’s actually a little afraid of retirement and relishes this one last opportunity to sink his teeth into something substantial with his Hispanic/Native American partner, Alberto (Gil Birmingham). This is old fashioned cops and robbers. Who’s in the right?

foster

Is the Western making a comeback? I don’t believe the traditional Western genre will ever be like it once was, but it does feel like Hollywood has been fusing the genre with more modern genres moreso than ever. Enter Hell or High Water, a movie that doesn’t carry Western in its genre listing but is pretty much so. It will be hard for any upcoming Western to top the final product here.

Director David McKenzie (Perfect Sense) manages the proceedings here. The Texas—technically, New Mexico–backdrop isn’t flashy, but there is something striking about it. But he may be outshined by the screenplay turned in by Taylor Sheridan. Debuting with last year’s Sicario, the man has quickly established himself as a talented writer in less than a year’s time.

Nothing about Hell or High Water is truly original, but in a way, that makes what Sheridan accomplishes all the more surprising and impressive. At the core, this is a movie about inequality, the 1% versus the 99%. It is a theme that is as old as the beginning of time, and one that is ever-popular in recent years from The Dark Knight Rises to Money Monster. But it is subtle, such as the billboards that the brothers find on the road that bring up debt and quick cash. The script gives reasons to care about the main characters; they’re actually people with believable motivations. And on a basic sense, the characters are just entertaining to hear talk. This isn’t an action-heavy piece, as even the robbery scenes are muted. Dialogue definitely is at the forefront. With a title like Hell or High Water, one might expect nonstop heaviness and grit. What is surprising is how much humor is injected in the movie and how it actually is effective, and its characters are made more endearing for it.

ranger

Each of the three main actors, Texas drawls and all, turn in impressive performances. He may not be a lead character in this, but Gil Birmingham flashes great chemistry with Jeff Bridges and their ride-along relationship is entertaining. Bridges himself is a better version of what Tommy Lee Jones’ character was in No Country for Old Men. He understands the situation at hand instead of being taken aback by it, and his zeal for wanting to get the job done is a treat to watch.

The dynamic that Ben Foster and Chris Pine show is electric. Character-wise, Tanner should be a guy that is impossible to root for, and yet he isn’t. Ben Foster does stellar work with the role, and gives heart to a semi-unstable character. It is Chris Pine, however, who comes out of this one as the talking point of the film. I’ve always felt he’s had it in him to do this quality of work, and his Toby is likely the high point of his career to this point, and the end scene that is reminiscent to Heat‘s iconic De Niro/Pacino moment seals the deal, his character’s plight, and why.

chrispine

Hell or High Water is high tide for the Western genre. Coming near the end of the summer, it feels like the perfect catalyst to lead into a (hopefully) good fall movie season.

A-

Photo credits go to usatoday.com, thefilmstage.com, and ew.com

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