Cody Lambert (Jeremy Renner) is on the hunt in Taylor Sheridan’s Wind River. (Source: Slash Film)
Taylor Sheridan has crafted two of the best screenplays so far this decade with Sicario and Hell or High Water. He perfectly blends graphic violence with humanity set in a social and economic climate—for instance, the War on Drugs of Sicario and the economic crisis of Texas in Hell or High Water. Sheridan’s latest, Wind River, is his directorial debut and brings forth what made his two previous films so brilliant. This time, set in the most remote area of the United States. So remote even the officials do not have the statistics of how many Native American people have gone missing.
In Wyoming’s Wind River Indian Reservation, Fish and Wildlife Service agent Cody Lambert (Jeremy Renner) is assigned to hunt for predators who kill livestock. One day, while out in the snowy wilderness, he stumbles upon the corpse of an eighteen-year-old Native American girl named Natalie (Kelsey Asbille). Along with FBI agent Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen), Lambert is assigned to investigate the presumed murder of the girl, whose father (Gil Birmingham) is stricken with grief about his loss.
Filmed in and around Park City, Utah (the home of Sundance Film Festival), this movie is as realistic as it is devastating. Sheridan puts it to miraculous use with his great screenplay and direction, hauntingly beautiful visuals, and violence so sudden it’s effective. The characters feel like real people.
Renner’s Lambert almost resembles the tropes of a classic Western hero. He’s a caring father who is dealing with a rough past. He knows every area of the snowy Wyoming Mountains (not to mention a keen eye when it comes to hunting game). The scenes he has with the girl’s father (superb performance by Birmingham) are some of the finest moments I’ve seen this year at the movies. Olsen’s Banner, in contrast, is a rookie coming from Las Vegas. She arrives on the scene without bringing any winter clothes. But—she ends up being in charge of the investigation with Lambert. These two stars are at the top of their game here.
Once the violence comes into the picture, it makes the audience jump out of their skin. With its slow burn, the movie leads up to one satisfying payoff. I’m hoping Taylor Sheridan’s screenplay will be a tie-in for an Oscar nomination. This is one of the year’s best films.
Tanner (Ben Foster) and Toby (Chris Pine) try to save their family’s ranch in Hell or High Water (Source: IMDb)
2016 has provided some of the most original films in recent memory. For Hell or High Water, it has the plot devices of a traditional Western. Two outlaws wreak havoc in town. They do everything they can to get away with it. Someone is out after them. This time, it’s set in modern times. Instead of riding on horses, the outlaws drive in cars and trucks. Instead of the good-ol’ saloon, they eat at restaurants and cafes. Along with Eye in the Sky and last week’s Don’t Breathe, I have never seen movie this thrilling all year. But, this is something quite special.
In West Texas, Toby Howard (Chris Pine) is a divorced father who wants to do anything to be around his sons. The ranch operated by his family is being foreclosed by the Texas Midlands Bank. He calls upon his older ex-con brother Tanner (Ben Foster) to plan a series of heists in order to save their ranch. Meanwhile, the county sheriff Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges) is on the verge of retirement. As the brothers plan their final robbery, he and his deputy Alberto (Gil Birmingham) are out to put an end to it.
David Mackenzie and cinematographer Giles Nuttgens make every scene look like a painting. The robberies offer enough tension as if the audience feels like they are part of the robbery. In their first movie since The Finest Hours (one of Disney’s biggest box-office flops), Foster and Pine have never been better. The irony in Hell or High Water is the villains are the banks rather than the criminals. Toby is focused, while Tanner is a giant hothead. Together, they are trying everything to exceed their limits in saving the ranch. Even though this will be the last time they might see each other during this economic crisis.
The characters know how to get around every situation. As suspenseful as the movie is, the movie has a razor sharp wit, thanks to the wonderful screenplay by Taylor Sheridan of Sicario. In one scene, Hamilton likes to make jokes about Alberto’s Indian heritage. One day, they decide to get a bite to eat at a restaurant. “What don’t you want?” the waitress asks. These two are confused. She tells a story about a customer wanted trout instead of T-bone steak and baked potatoes.
Hell or High Water defines the summer. Let the Oscar buzz commence!