Tag Archives: native american

Wind River – Review

24 Aug

Hollywood has had a new powerhouse writer storming the industry recently, and his name is Taylor Sheridan. In 2015, Sicario took everyone by surprise, and Sheridan followed up that success with another in 2016 with Hell or High Water. Both of these movies are absolutely fantastic, and I had no idea he had another movie coming out that he was also directing. This latest film, Wind River, filled me with high expectations before it was released and I really wasn’t worried that it wasn’t going to meet these expectations. I mean, it’s a Taylor Sheridan movie. How could it go wrong? Well it met my expectations and gave me some really visceral, shocking moments that I won’t be forgetting. Wind River is simply awesome.

After hunting for a lion that’s killing livestock on the Wind River Indian Reservation, Cory Lambert (Jeremy Renner) comes across a dead body of an 18 year old resident of the reservation, Natalie Hanson (Kelsey Chow). This discovery deeply affects Cory since he knew the girl and her family but also lost someone in his own life in a similar way. The nature of the crime attracts the attention of the FBI, and the closest agent, Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen), is sent to head the investigation. This kind of landscape is very foreign to Banner, however, so she enlists the help of Lambert to aid her both through the territory but also with the local Native Americans who may not speak so openly to an unfamiliar federal agent. As the mystery unfolds, a darker side to Wind River is shown that is filled with hatred and angst that clearly was the inspiration behind the ghastly murder.

I gotta be up front here. I really can not get enough of this movie. It’s taken me a while to write this review, but since I’ve seen Wind River, I haven’t been able to shake it from my head. This is definitely a film that demands multiple viewings because it is a bit unconventional in the layout of the story which may seem abrupt to some people. Above anything else, this film is a mystery and it even feels like something straight out of a classic novel from one of your favorite writers. It has a slow pace to it, but the way that the story curveballs makes everything worthwhile. I don’t normally try to solve the crime with the detectives in movies, but I couldn’t help myself with this one. When I thought I was on the right track, Sheridan hit me with a twist that felt like a punch to the jaw. So far, with three excellent movies under his belt, Sheridan has shown that he has the ability to write a story that will keep audiences shocked even when it starts to lull you with a seemingly simple storyline. It’s never quite as easy as it seems.

Something that Taylor Sheridan also has complete command over is the environment his stories take place in. Much like Hell or High Water takes place in a desert of sand, Wind River feels like one of snow. It’s an exposed in environment that just feels dangerous both due to the animals that Lambert hunts but also with all of the other hostility. This is not a happy movie, and it dives into some pretty intense themes that I haven’t seen in a movie that I can recall. At the end of the film, without giving anything away, a harrowing fact about Native American reservations is shown that brings total clarity to the movie. While this is a totally open area, the inhabitants feel trapped and this feeling isn’t something recent, but something that has been boiling for years. It’s never explicitly said that this movie is about the life of modern Native Americans, because the movie is truly about the mystery and Sheridan is dedicated to it. He also is smart enough to layer his stories to where this treatment of Native Americans is a huge part to what’s happening. Everyone that Lambert and Banner question sound like they’re at the end of their ropes. It’s an intense feeling to be shown onscreen and it makes for a captivating narrative.

This is a hard movie to find flaws with, but if I had to say anything I’d say that the acting is just good. There’s nothing really to say. Renner and Olsen have great chemistry and perform their parts well but there’s nothing really to write home about. They work very well, but never wowed me. That’s really where my complaints end, however. The merit in this movie that’s worth noting is in the writing, but also in the production design. This is a very realistic feeling movie. The homes and other sets feel very genuine and the scenes where people are navigating snowmobiles through heavily wooded areas was strangely hypnotic. This isn’t an extremely violent movie with only a few actual scenes of it, but when it gets down to it, it can be pretty rough. The climax of this movie made my jaw drop and stay dropped until the end.

Did this review sound like I was just gushing all about Taylor Sheridan? Probably, but I can’t really help it. He is, to me, one of my favorite screenwriters. He may even be my favorite, but that’s a pretty bold claim to make. Sicario and Hell or High Water were both excellent, and I’m thrilled to say that Wind River is also excellent. The mystery is deep and the consequences of everyone’s actions are felt. I was guessing until the very end and then the movie left me with a parting thought that is just chilling. This was a fantastic movie that I really can’t wait to watch again and again.

Final Grade: A

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Dead Man – Review

30 May

Westerns are certainly not my favorite genre of film. For the most part, I find them boring with some exceptions like the remake 3:10 to Yuma and Appaloosa. These two films are very different from Jim Jarmusch’s Dead Man, a strange, dreamlike Western that explores the themes of death and how we can prepare for it, and through that preparation find out who we really are and what we are capable of.

William Blake (Johnny Depp) is an accountant from Cleveland who is offered a job in the town of Machine, despite warnings from the fireman (Crispin Glover) on the train he is traveling on. Upon arrival, Blake discovers that the job is no longer available. No out of work and only a few cents to his name, William decides to drown his sorrows in alcohol and meets a former prostitute, Thel. (Mili Avital). When Thel’s fiance (and son to the man who promised Blake a job) walks in on William and Thel, a shootout occurs resulting in the death of Thel and her fiancé. Now, William is wounded and on the run until he is found by a Native American named Nobody (Gary Farmer). While William travels with Nobody, a group of killers (Lance Henriksen, Michael Wincott, and Eugene Byrd)  are on their trail to bring Blake in dead or alive.

This isn’t a Western about good guys and bad guys, although the film does have its fair share of both. What really is at the core of this film is a philosophy on death and society. As the title states, William Blake is dying, making him the walking dead. This intense newfound version of mortality brings upon a strange change in William Blake’s character. He goes from being a push over accountant to a gunslinging man on the run who has found peace with himself. It made me think how I would handle myself in that situation. Would I be as accepting as William Blake?

There is a commentary, albeit a bizarre one, on society. Machine is a lawless city where bounty hunters are brought in to take care of the murderers and other criminals. Essentially, this is just killers chasing down other killers and getting paid for it. I don’t’ know if I would go so far as to say that Jarmusch is saying using this as a metaphor for police officers, but I wouldn’t discount that theory. The Native Americans portrayed also celebrate killing as something honorable. This served as a reminder that murder is purely a societal condemnation, and humans would kill each other in nature. I’m not saying that the Native Americans are portrayed as cold blooded killers; they merely have different views on the act of killing.

This movie is full of stars. Johnny Depp is really in charge of pushing the movie forward and it was cool to see him in one of his earlier roles. Gary Farmer was fantastic as Nobody and brought a lot of sympathy and understanding not only to his character, but to the Native American people. There’s so many other great roles in this with fine actors playing them. Dead Man features the likes of Crispin Glover, Gabriel Byrne, Lance Henriksen, John Hurt, Robert Mitchum (in his last role), Iggy Pop, Billy Bob Thornton, Jared Harris, and Alfred Molina. This film is a performance powerhouse.

As a word of warning to casual film goers: Dead Man is very, very slow. There are times where I didn’t think the story could move any slower and then it did! This is the way to tell the story though. With the overlying theme of preparing for death by discovering your inner oneness with nature is a powerful message. This slow pace perfectly accentuates the arc that William Blake travels. The opening scene where Blake is on the train keeps cutting from the inside of the train, to the mechanics of the train, to the desert. This perfectly shows just how long this trip is taking and it sets up the feeling for the rest of the movie.

I also feel the need to mention the cinematography and soundtrack. Robert Müller creates a beautifully bleak atmosphere with his flowing camera work and black and white photography. Neil Young’s music also is a big contribution to the film, and is just as minimal as Jarmusch’s storytelling. These combined are all very important to the atmosphere of the film and immersing the viewer into its unsettling hold.

If you feel like you have the patience to sit through Dead Man and think about it long afterwards, as it is inevitable, then this is a phenomenal experience. I call it an experience because I never felt the pulse pounding entertainment that you would feel in a typical Western or thriller. This is a quiet storm that hits the viewer hard with its messages, scenery, and mood. I’d go so far as to call Dead Man a masterpiece.