Wind River – Film Review

Wind River

Directed by Taylor Sheridan

Starring Jeremy Renner, Elizabeth Olsen, Gil Birmingham

Certificate 15

I know three things about Wind River before I settle into my comfy cinema seat. It was scripted by Taylor Sheridan, who penned Sicario and Hell or High Water (two of my favourite films of recent years), and stars one of my favourite actors, Jeremy Renner.

Everything else is, aptly, a mystery.

As the movie opens, and I’m treated to vast snowy vistas at the Wind River Indian Reservation in Wyoming, we meet US Fish and Wildlife Service agent Cory Lambert (Renner).

It reminds me of why I love cinema. You just don’t get that same emotional impact on TV or (obviously) on your phone.

And that wintry American landscape is a key character in this beautifully told, brutal, intelligent thriller based on a true story.

Lambert has a tragic past, a Native American Indian ex-wife and son. While hunting vicious wildlife he happens upon the body of a frozen woman with bare feet.

Enter ill prepared FBI agent Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen, Renner’s co-star in the Avengers/Captain America movies).

She’s obviously in over her head and needs Cory’s skills as a hunter who knows the area and the locals. Assisted by the wonderfully deadpan Ben (Graham Greene – Dances with Wolves), the story takes its time offering pieces of the jigsaw which slowly slot into place.

It’s not a film that feels in a rush, and director Sheridan keeps the attention throughout.

Yes, there are action scenes, and a lot of footage of Renner on a snowmobile, which keeps the energy up when it could start to flag.

The most important thing here is the performances and the dynamic between Renner and Olsen. Obviously they gelled in the Marvel movies, but while she’s all wide-eyed inquisitive and wet behind the ears, his face is a relief map of experience and buried pain. He’s cut from the same cloth of iconic heroes of old like Steve McQueen and Harrison Ford in his prime.

Not sure about Nick Cave’s soundtrack, which sounds like a drunk had stumbled into the recording studio when no one was looking, but it does add a spiritual element to the movie mirroring the Native American theme.

I’d quite happily watch this again as a double bill with Hell or High Water. Sheridan has a knack for crafting great thrillers with compelling characters, and if there’s any justice, Renner should get an Oscar and BAFTA nomination for his turn. It’s one of his best performances since The Hurt Locker.

Laced with humour to alleviate the tension, it ticks over beautifully with well realised characters and a breadcrumb trail that leads me and the audience further into the mystery.

The movie closes with a chilling statistic about the fact the FBI does not have statistics on missing Native American women, whose numbers remain unknown. It could be preachy but isn’t.

The fact I stay through most of the closing credits is testament to how good the film is.

Some critics have called it one of the best films of the year. I’d have to agree.

8/10

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Arrival – Movie Review

When a dozen shell like spacecraft arrive over key locations around the world, linguistics expert Louise Banks (Amy Adams) leads a team of investigators.

 

Arrival is many things. A love story, an alien invasion flick, a study of grief and longing, and a drama about communication all rolled into one. 
What it actually is is revealed in the final minutes and packs one of the biggest emotional punches of the year. Though punch is too strong a word. It’s more of a tap, hitting part of your soul that resonates. 

Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner are always great and here they offer a solid emotional anchor to a project that could have floated away like the dozen ships at the heart of the movie. 


The scenes of human-alien interaction cleverly take place in an arena that looks like a movie theatre with no seats. We relate to the heroes witnessing what looks like a giant interactive movie. There are echoes of Torchwood’s ETs, only more benign, or are they?

After his powerhouse dramas Prisoners and Sicario, Denis Villeneuve has struck gold again, delivering a compelling tale with an aptly alien score. 

Some movies signpost their messages a while in advance but this takes its time revealing the heart-rending core of its tale. 

I left the theatre with a deep sense of melancholy and empathy. Yes it’s a film that has a start, middle and end, but not how you might think. 


Though marketed as an Independence Day-style thriller, it’s really an art house movie, more reminiscent of Under the Skin and Day the Earth Stood Still than the less commercial, cerebral movie it is. Like all the best films, such as Lost in Translation and Eternal Sunshine, this lingers long after the credits have rolled.

Obviously it’s not perfect. A ticking clock plot twist feels contrived, and those responsible seem brushed under the carpet too easily, but it’s not a deal breaker. When the key to the third act’s denouement comes it feels right given the context. 

There are inevitable comparisons with Contact, Jodie Foster’s 1997 sci-fi epic which involved a female protagonist, aliens, subterfuge and big ideas, but that was let down by a cop out finale which looked like it belonged in a Bounty advert. This avoids such pitfalls.

A repeat viewing is almost essential. 
My passion for Blade Runner 2 has been building for years, and given Villeneuve’s track record so far, I doubt he’s going to drop the ball with that sequel.  

The 30 Best Films of 2015

2015: a year of extraordinary films, fascinating indie flicks and nostalgic blockbusters.
Here’s my favourite 30 movies – and a few of the worst.

The bad and the ugly…
Spy – Jason Statham was a hoot as a gruff agent. The fact he was funnier than foul mouthed star Melissa McCarthy was just one of the many problems.

Jupiter Ascending – epic in scale, well made, but utterly barking. “Bees don’t lie.” Funniest line of the year.

The Last Witch Hunter – Vin Diesel’s The Slow and the Infuriating would have been a better title.

The good…

30: Inside Out. Sweet but overrated Pixar smash boosted by a sucker punch third act. Support ‘toon Lava was a gem.

29: Brooklyn. Slow burning drama with Saoirse Ronan a mesmerising force.

28: The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. The material was sari-thin, but the cast sold it beautifully.

27: The Falling. Maisie Williams was magnetic in director Carol Morley’s compelling drama about suspected mass hysteria in a school. Picnic at Hanging Rock, UK style.

26: Steve Jobs. Danny Boyle’s three act, three launch biopic crashed, but Fassbender and co did justice to Aaron Sorkin’s script.

25: It Follows. Creepily effective thriller with nods to Carpenter, Raimi and Let Me In.

24: Danny Collins. Pacino couldn’t carry a note as the eponymous singer, but this loosely fact-based drama had a heart bigger than his tour bus.

23: Avengers-Age of Ulton. Top heavy, weak villain, and a flabby second act but still fun.

22: Big Hero 6. Beautiful, touching and superbly crafted yarn reminiscent of Incredibles, anime and Iron Giant.

21: Jurassic World. Light on character development, heavy on spectacle and terrific action scenes.

20: Ex-Machina. Alex Garland’s intelligent three hander ticked over nicely.

19: The Theory of Everything. Eddie Redmayne’s career-best turn as Stephen Hawking was worthy of all the awards.

18: Bill. The Horrible Histories team worked wonders with this Shakespearean comedy.

17: Spectre. James Bond returned. Cash tills rang. Things exploded. Reached for the sky, fell short, but great fun regardless.

16: 50 Shades of Gray. A kinky fairytale for frustrated secretaries the world over. I loved it…like you do.

15: Mr Holmes. Ian McKellen’s Oscar and BAFTA-worthy take on the Baker Street sleuth was a gloriously created yarn. The finest performance of the year.

14: Ant-Man. Best superhero flick of 2015. Edgar Wright’s departure may have been no bad thing… and I love his work.

13: Mission Impossible – Rogue Nation. Tom Cruise back on form as Ethan Hunt; Simon Pegg fast becoming the saga’s MVP, and a star was born in Rebecca Ferguson. The opera scene was outstanding.

12: Awaiting. Well crafted thriller with Tony Curran on top form as an unhinged dad and Rupert Hill delivering a solid performance. Glorious third act. Great score too.

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Awaiting. Photo: Solar Productions

11: The Martian. Not as good as Andy Weir’s superb novel, but Ridley Scott’s best in years.

10: Man Up – Lake Bell and Simon Pegg’s Curtislike rom com with a GSOH.

9: The Lady in the Van. Alan Bennett’s autobiographical play was a modest gem.
Maggie Smith shone.

8: Whiplash. Miles Teller couldn’t save that slated Marvel movie, but here he was Mr Fantastic in the best film about drumming ever made. And JK Simmons deserved his gongs after that powerhouse turn.

7: Birdman. Surreal, compelling and dazzling with a superb Michael Keaton. It soared.

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Michael Keaton soars in Birdman: Source image: Fox Searchlight/Sketch – Roger Crow

6: Kingsman – The Secret Service. Came out of nowhere, and proved hugely enjoyable. Also turned Taron Egerton into an overnight star.

5: Sicario. Denis Villeneuve’s gritty, stylish drama with tense set pieces and great photography by Roger Deakins. Blade Runner 2 now looking more promising than ever.

4: The Duke of Burgundy. Peter Strickland’s powerhouse adult drama paid homage to euro movies of the seventies. Beautifully mounted, like many of the moths featured, with a great Cats Eyes score.

3: Bridge of Spies. Steven Spielberg, Tom Hanks and Mark Rylance delivered the most satisfying, intelligent thriller of the year. “Would it help?” being one of 2015’s most unlikely catchphrases.

2: Mad Max: Fury Road. George Miller’s heavy on the mad, light on the Max reboot was the best movie of its type since Mad Max 2 in the early Eighties. Visually stunning. Charlize Theron was outstanding. ‘Shiny and chrome’.

1: Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Midi chlorians begone; that’s not how the force works. This was the most satisfying Star Wars epic, and sci-fi adventure since The Empire Strikes Back. Funny, thrilling, poignant and touching. I laughed. I got something in my eye. I played the soundtrack on a loop. I went back to see it again and again. JJ – you did us proud.

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JJ Abrams, fresh from the set of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, with composer Michael Giacchino and Simon Pegg at the Albert Hall. Photo: Roger Crow

Sicario – A Review

Sicario is one of the best films of 2015, a taut, compelling, beautifully lensed thriller about the hunt for a crimelord.
That’s it. Though for the first half it seems to be so much more. It’s also a Trojan horse of a movie, making you believe that Emily Blunt’s FBI officer heroine Kate Mercer is the main character when in fact it’s Benicio Del Toro’s duplicitous protagonist or antagonist that knits the movie together. 

Josh Brolin is terrific as the government agent who acts as a bridge between Blunt and DelToro, while Harry Enfield’s old colleague Daniel Kaluuya is on fine form as Blunt’s colleague. 

  

The ominous score by Johann Johansson is filled with slow building menace, while Roger Deakins’ photography is stunning. 

See it on a big screen and then wait for the obligatory Golden Globe nods. 

One of the best things about it is the fact it’s a real drama, not some advert for a video game, or a franchise launching adventure. Nor is it a vanity project. It has meat on its bones and sustains the interest from start to end. 

On the strength of this, director Denis Villeneuve’s Blade Runner 2 cannot come soon enough. Given the fact his work on Prisoners was outstanding, it’s good to see him go from strength to strength.