Posts Tagged ‘hell or high water’

ET00004795

**** (out of five)

Taylor Sheridan is a damn good screenwriter. He wrote Sicario, Hell or High Water, and now Wind River, which he also directs. He wraps rich character studies in genre. All three feature guns, but they also feature human beings.

Here, a policeman in Wyoming who specialises in shooting wild animals to protect the herds on a Native American reservation teams up with a pretty young FBI case-worker to solve the mysterious, cold and lonely death of a young Native woman. Much of their work takes place on the reservation, in the snow (and often in a snow-storm).

What a milieu! We get snowmobiles as primary transport, the harsh weather as perhaps the most striking antagonist, a look inside life on a reservation, and, as a terrific by-product, a suite of some of the best Native American actors in the business, including Gil Birmingham (who was also in Hell or High Water, as Jeff Bridges’ partner), Apesanahkwat, Tantoo Cadinal and, of course, the great Graham Greene (who  is up to 146 credits on IMDB with five films in post-production). It’s an embarrassment of casting riches.

As the leads, both Elizabeth Olsen and Jeremy Renner are very good – Olsen, perhaps great. Renner gets the harsh backstory but Olsen, as the FBI agent – a pretty young woman in a very, very male domain – gets the moments. Her scene at the first location of interest to the pair – you’ll know it when you see it – is Jodie-Foster-in-Silence of the Lambs-good.

As with Sicario and Hell or High Water, Sheridan gives us the action set-pieces the genre demands – a couple of very, very good ones indeed – but his character work here feels just a touch more strained. Gil Birmingham’s character is superb and fully realised, but Renner is burdened with backstory that’s just a little too rich, convenient or both. Also – almost certainly due in no small part to the harsh conditions of the locations – the dialogue can often be extremely hard to decipher. This was the wrong movie, shot in the wrong conditions, to let your actors mumble, and Sheridan lets Renner mumble a lot. It’s a shame; these elements hold Wind River back from being right up there with the very best films of 2017.

With hours before the Oscars, here are some of our skipi.tv reviews and/or discussions of nominated films:

TONI ERDMANN:

http://www.skipi.tv/toni/

MANCHESTER BY THE SEA:

http://www.skipi.tv/mbts/

CAPTAIN FANTASTIC:

http://www.skipi.tv/cptftstc/

JACKIE with Paul Byrnes:

http://www.skipi.tv/jackie/

HELL OR HIGH WATER with Paul Byrnes:

http://www.skipi.tv/hohwr17/

LA LA LAND with Paul Byrnes:

http://www.skipi.tv/lllr/

HIDDEN FIGURES with Miriam Capper:

http://www.skipi.tv/wtep10/

These films were released in the United States and/or Australia in the calendar year 2016. They do not include certain highly praised films which I have not seen yet, such as Moonlight and Manchester By The Sea, and Jackie, which I have seen and which is a truly brilliant film, but which I have not published a review for yet and which doesn’t open in Australia until January 12.

Your comments – and your own lists – are welcome and appreciated!

THE TOP TEN IN ORDER:

Krisha

Set in a roomy Texas house on Thanksgiving and taking place entirely within that day, Krisha is a serious, creepy, ambitious, moving, uncompromising and wholly successful cinematic work. Krisha, played by Krisha Fairchild, director Trey Edward Shults’ aunt, returns to the bosom of her family – played almost entirely by members of Shults’ own family – for the holiday. The trouble is, under the welcoming surfaces, everything is cracked, and as the day progresses, the glass starts to splinter. It’s seemingly simple yet, in just 83 minutes, enormously, profoundly compelling and quite terrifying.

Tickled

One of those documentaries where the less you know, the better, because every single twist in the tale is surprising, and the best of them are head-spinning, jaw-dropping, and hysterical. Suffice to say that it’s a Pandora’s Box with results both funny and deeply disturbing.

Captain Fantastic

Thematically massive, tonally bold, determinedly non-formulaic and featuring a preternaturally perfectly cast leading man at the top of his game.

Sing Street

A total delight from start to finish, and the best film about the pure joy of making music since We Are The Best! (2013), with which it shares similarities.

Goldstone

Simultaneously a small story set against a massive landscape and a huge story told within the world’s smallest community, Goldstone is a stunning, original piece of cinema.

Weiner

This sensational – in all senses of the word – feature documentary is thus a scintillating glimpse into a unique political marriage. But more than anything, it is a film whose camera is there at those moments you never see: the ones immediately proceeding what we do see, when what we do see is decided for us.

Hell or High Water

The sad, dusty towns against which this classically-oriented story play out are breathtakingly evocative, as are the bodies and faces of all the Texans we meet along the way. It’s its own universe. Details are tremendously revealed through an almost perfect union of character and dialogue.

David Brent: Life On The Road

It is exquisite to watch a performer / writer re-visit his greatest creation again with such precision. The original songs are brilliantly awful; they’re not only full of hilarious and spot-on lyrics but the music itself is perfect, exactly what would come from the pen of David Brent. Indeed, the whole film, despite its air of improvisation, is terrifyingly precise.

Elle

A mesmerising, frenzied abomination, a thrilling, propulsive, lurid provocation that is simultaneously classy and grotesque, refined and coarse, arthouse and grindhouse.

Down Under

An extremely angry film, spewing vitriolic rage at the kind of people who spew vitriolic rage. Basically, it’s a war on idiots, of every ethnic stripe.

TOP FIVE TELEVISION:

The Girlfriend Experience

High Maintenance

The Night Of

Fleabag

The People Vs O.J. Simpson / O.J.: Made In America

maxresdefault

****1/2

Like Ivan Sen’s Mystery Road and Goldstone, David Mackenzie’s Hell or High Water is an elegiac, meloancholic modern-day western in which the strongest element is the milieu. In this case, that is contemporary small-town West Texas, which seems as exotic and lonely to this Sydney-and-Los Angeles based critic as the red desert of Sen’s films.

This is not just a bank robbery movie but one of the subset of bank robbery movies where the robbers really hate the banks. The twist here is that everyone else does too, in a way that couldn’t be more 2016. It’s not that the leather-faced, unironically cowboy-hat wearing, armed-to-a-man denizens of this world are on the robbers’ side; they just hate the banks more.

Chris Pine and Ben Foster play the robbers with an axe to grind; they’re brothers, and one is calm and thoughtful, the other wild and dangerous (guess which is which and you’ll be right; these two have not been cast against type). Jeff Bridges, in a role I suspect will garner him a Best Supporting Actor nomination at the Oscars, plays the Ranger pursuing them alongside his deputy, played by the always entertaining Gil Birmingham, who has the dryest delivery in movies.

The sad, dusty towns against which this classically-oriented story play out are breathtakingly evocative, as are the bodies and faces of all the Texans we meet along the way. It’s its own universe. Details are tremendously revealed through an almost perfect union of character and dialogue: when questioned by Bridges, one old timer says that the brothers were “lean, like cowboys.” That’s enough of a concept for a movie of its own.

Mackenzie, working from a script by Taylor Sheridan (who also plays a lean cowboy), parses out the main characters on a fascinating slow-drip feed, keeping us in a perpetual state of languid suspense. The story is evocative of classic westerns but offers surprising twists and turns, all built on careful construction of character. There’s a spare but extremely apt original score by – yes! – Nick Cave and Warren Ellis, who are drawn to dust, obviously.

This is a political film shot through with a quiet but deliberate anger. The banks in these old towns are brighter and cleaner than the wrecks surrounding them: after all, they’ve got all the people’s money. And guns – well, guns are everywhere. Every man in the film has one, mostly concealed. Dramatically, it ties the film to John Ford, John Wayne and the classic American West. Ideologically, it’s terrifying.

This is an excellent film and will probably feature in a few categories at the Oscars – besides Bridges for Supporting Actor, I’m thinking Screenplay and possibly Best Film. See it.