Wind River wasn’t totally what I expected. After seeing the trailer and learning that it was written by Taylor Sheridan, who also wrote Hell or High Water and Sicario (two of my favorite films from their respective years), I was all in on seeing this one. I figured that it would be a dark, realistic drama with interesting, flawed characters. Wind River definitely was that, but it also didn’t have as much “murder mystery” as I expected in a murder mystery.
The story follows Jeremy Renner as an animal tracker on an Indian reservation in Wyoming, who discovers a dead woman out in the wilderness. Enter Elizabeth Olsen, the relatively inexperienced but confident FBI agent that comes in to handle the case. She enlists the help of Renner, and together, they work to track down the killer. The reason I say there’s isn’t a ton of mystery is because the “whodunit” aspect isn’t the focus of Wind River. There’s a reveal toward the end told through flashback, but it hardly comes across as a surprise. Instead, the film takes a lot of time exploring the characters and setting. This is a desolate place full of hardened, unemotional people. One of the characters even says something to the effect of “no one chooses to live here.”
I still don’t understand how Jeremy Renner hasn’t had more success. To be fair, the dude has two Oscar nominations (both well deserved), but almost every time I bring him up to someone, I hear “ugh, not a fan of him.” I don’t know why that is, because the guy is a fantastic actor. I’ll be shocked if he doesn’t receive another Oscar nomination for his work in this one. Elizabeth Olsen also brings a lot of power to her character. I haven’t seen her in much outside of the Marvel cinematic universe, but I think I know where all the acting talent went in the Olsen family. I’m excited to see her take on more dramatic roles in the future. Maybe it’s because of their work together in Avengers, but Renner and Olsen work well together. There’s a clear male/female chemistry that doesn’t solely rely on sexual tension, which is rare.
Also, huge kudos have to go to Taylor Sheridan. The writing and character development are outstanding, which is to be expected, judging from his previous work. But in what is his first major directorial work, he knocks it out of the park. He’s able to capture so much of the uniqueness of this setting, and really establishes the isolation felt by so many of the characters. And I can also say, without hyperbole, that the climactic scene of Wind River built more tension than anything I’ve seen in a movie in years. Yes, even more than the tensest scenes from Dunkirk. The writing and cinematography completely sell the moment.
Long story short, Wind River is my current pick for Best Picture, so you should see it.
King Arthur: Legend of the Sword
Recently, I wrote a review for another Charlie Hunnam movie, The Lost City of Z. I said that, while not terrible, it was a tad boring at times and Charlie Hunnam felt out of place in the time period and setting. Well, I’m not sure I’d say that King Arthur is boring, but it’s definitely a worse movie than The Lost City of Z.
This movie is just generic fantasy/action shlock, akin to The Great Wall. There’s nothing inherently offensive about the movie, and it certainly offers some fun spectacle, but the story is so stupid, the acting so painful at times, that it’s hard to recommend it to anyone.
I actually prefer Hunnam in this to his performance in The Lost City of Z. He’s able to be a bit more of his smarmy, charming self as Arthur, and his personality comes through. The writing and jokes are often bad, but he does his best with what’s given. Most of the other characters are completely forgettable, except for Jude Law’s villainous Vortigern. He chews the hell out of his lines, and not really in a fun way. It’s just bad, over the top acting.
There are a few standout action sequences when Arthur is wielding Excalibur, and Guy Ritchie flirts with his old quick-shot style from films like Snatch, but the effects are often terrible and really distract from the momentum he’s trying to build. If this wasn’t a Guy Ritchie flick starring folks with some name recognition, King Arthur: Legend of the Sword would come across like a straight-to-video fantasy film. Harsh, but true.
The Leftovers – Season One
Coming from the creative mind behind Lost, I wasn’t surprised that there was a fair deal of mystery and suspense in The Leftovers, centering around the status of this world and its characters. However, unlike Lost, that mystery surrounding the current state of things takes a back seat early on to the individual character stories and moments. This was a pleasant surprise.
The Leftovers takes place in some sort of imaginary present/near-future where the rapture has happened. Not the literal rapture, since there’s no explanation for the goings on, but it’s a world where over 100 million people just up an vanished into nothingness. It’s been three years since that day, and everyone is going about their lives, still trying to find some normalcy. The Leftovers is a fascinating look at humanity, love, and relationships in this incomprehensible situation. I cannot possibly imagine what it would be like to wake up one day and learn that a not-so-insignificant percentage of the world’s population no longer exists. It would be highly likely that I knew someone that “departed,” as the characters put it. How do you deal with that? The person didn’t die, they ceased to exist.
Unsurprisingly, most people turned to religious explanations for what happened. The government, organized religions, cults, public speakers, new organizations, and the like all claim to have the answer to “why.”
At this point, I don’t really care about the “why” of it all. There may be some larger explanation or story in the future, as the main characters become involved in something bigger than their normal lives, but I kind of hope that doesn’t happen. I’m perfectly content to just experience this reality with these tremendously well written, developed, and acted characters. They struggle with all of the same things we struggle with in real life — divorce, estrangement from our loved ones, growing into adulthood, dating, career stresses — only everything here has so much more weight because of what has happened. How can any of these people truly love or care about anything ever again? How can they truly be happy, when they’ve experienced this reality-shattering experience? Not to mention the fact that it could happen again at any time. It’s a terrible, fascinating thought.
Silicon Valley – Season Three
If you read my reviews of season one and season two, you’ll know that I think very highly of Silicon Valley. Well, that feeling didn’t fade with season three. To be honest, the through-line of the story makes it hard to differentiate individual moments across the now four seasons, but the start of season three had Pied Piper being run by someone other than Richard for the first time. Needless to say, Richard didn’t take to his new role as CTO all that well.
This plot point actually highlights another small issue with Silicon Valley — the show moves through storylines at a rapid pace. It’s never confusing, but I’m reminded of a show like Vikings. That may seem like a weird comparison, but hear me out. Back in my review of Vikings season two, I brought up the point that since the show is moving through villains and plotlines so quickly, it’s hard to imagine the show lasting more than half a dozen seasons. Considering Vikings season five begins airing later this year, it’s too early to tell if I’m right… but the concern remains. To get things back to Silicon Valley, this show takes a very similar approach. Where you might anticipate a certain status quo lasting for an entire season, the show moves past it into something new after only a few episodes. That definitely contributes to the fast-paced feel of the show, but I worry that it also might mean the writers burn through a lot of good storylines. I can’t say that it’s been a huge bother to me so far, but the show does seem to have problems at times dealing with side characters once their major plot point is wrapped up.
Silicon Valley twists and turns more than you’d expect, and I’m often left surprised by the actions some characters take. Richard, in particular, is becoming more and more like a Walter White type character in the early days of Breaking Bad. He’s someone that always says “this is the last time I’ll do something bad,” but then there he is, justifying something else in a few episodes. He can be a bit hard to root for at times — his pretentious, awkward manner can be more grating than endearing, and he certainly doesn’t always think about the welfare of others when trying to keep Pied Piper above water. Still, I’m more into this show for the rest of the crew, and I don’t see myself getting sick of their antics anytime soon.
So, what’s been your favorite movie this year? Let me know in the comments below, and be sure to check out the rest of my Quickie Reviews!