Screenwriter Taylor Sheridan is developing an impressive reputation. His first film script was for 2015’s stellar “Sicario” and he followed it up with last year’s “Hell or High Water”. A deep-south crime thriller, “Hell or High Water” (despite a plot hole or two) would earn him an Academy Award nomination and highlight Sheridan’s gift for telling character-driven stories with a sharp regional authenticity.
His latest film “Wind River” is yet another showcase for Sheridan’s fascinating style of storytelling. It also sees him hop into the director’s chair, something he’s only done once before with a low-budget horror film appropriately titled “Vile”.
“Wind River” begins with a startling scene featuring a terrified young woman running through a snowy wooded area during the frigid cold of night. Her frozen body is eventually discovered by Cory Lambert (Jeremy Renner), a Fish and Wildlife Service tracker for the Wind River Indian Reservation in Wyoming. Lambert reports the death to Tribal Police Chief Ben (Graham Greene) who promptly calls the FBI. The relatively uninterested Feds send earnest but ill-equipped rookie agent Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen) to oversee the investigation.
From there the story becomes an absorbing mix of slow-boiling murder mystery and thoughtful commentary. A lot is gleaned from the rough and rugged setting. As with Sheridan’s previous two films, setting is one of the most captivating components. “Wind River” is filmed mostly on location which adds a harsh natural edge to the mystery. But the territory’s ruggedness is equally presented in another form – drugs, poverty, isolation and violence all speak to the reservation life Sheridan clearly wants to examine.
Renner and Olsen shed their second-tier Marvel superhero personas and get to play interesting real-life characters firmly grounded by Sheridan’s dialogue. Sheridan loves fleshing out his characters through well-conceived conversation. Renner is superb giving a quiet and measured performance fitting of a character with plenty of baggage to unpack. Olsen’s role resembled that of Emily Blunt in “Sicario” but just a hair less convincing. She’s tough but inexperienced and forced to learn on the fly from the situation she is thrust into. They are a good team working through local obstacles as well as federal red tape and indifference.
Sheridan’s direction matches his screenwriting – steady and assured. His knack for pacing keeps the story bumping along all while building tension and fleshing out his characters. It is sure to be too slow for some and there are certain things Sheridan shows but has no interest in exploring. Personally speaking I appreciated his focus.
Things eventually reach their boiling point leading to a finale that obliterates the film’s patient rhythm. It’s a bit jarring but inevitable and satisfying. There are a few small questions left on the table and it’s hard to determine if they are intentional or oversights. Still Sheridan has written yet another solid screenplay in his crime story trilogy and has added a strong directing credit to his resume. He remains an exciting filmmaker with a refreshing cinematic eye and his next script “Soldado” is a sequel to “Sicario”. I’m all onboard.
“The Third Man” is a stunning British film noir from 1949 directed by Carol Reed and starring Joseph Cotten. It’s a film featuring a tight Hitchcockian story and some extremely clever uses of cameras and lighting. Novelist Graham Greene wrote the screenplay that takes place in a battered post-World War 2 Vienna. The city has been broken up into sectors, each owned by different countries. This plays a big part in Greene’s story. Throughout the film we see shells of buildings, burnt out cars and piles a debris left from the war and it creates one of the most believable atmospheres. This is in large part due to the incredible cinematography from Richard Krasker but more on that later.
This is the Vienna that novelist Holly Martins (Joseph Cotten) enters into. He arrives there at the request of his friend Harry Lime who has offered him a job. But he finds out that Harry had just been killed after being struck by a car. Curious about the circumstances surrounding his death, Martins begins to suspect that Harry was murdered. Along the way he runs into several characters including a cryptic British military policeman (Trevor Howard), Harry’s girlfriend (Anna Schmidt), a couple of Harry’s suspicious “friends” (Ernst Deutsch & Siegfried Breuer), Harry’s doctor (Erich Ponto), and an eyewitness to Harry’s death (Paul Horbiger). Martins sets out to piece together the tidbits of information he gets from each of these people and soon finds out that the truth may be a hard thing to handle.
The story moves at a perfect pace while nicely delivering all the elements you would expect from a high quality mystery and film noir. Cotten is fabulous as always and the supporting cast does a marvelous job of creating the shady and hard-to-read characters that give a movie like this such energy. It’s also necessary to mention that Orson Welles has a small but pivotal part in the movie and, just as you would expect, he is superb. The story never hits a lull nor does it ever overplay it’s hand. It’s intelligent and well constructed and I was consumed by both the narrative and the environment in took place in.
Getting back to Krasker’s cinematography, it’s impossible to watch this picture and not be struck by it. His work was ahead of its time and serves as an object lesson on creative camera angles and the use of lighting. The film was shot almost entirely in Vienna. Krasker goes to great lengths to capture the historical beauty of the city although it’s often shrouded in the darkness of night. But his impeccable use of lighting and shadows draws out the attraction of the statues, architecture, and cobblestone streets as well as the devastation left by the war. Also, you can’t talk about the presentation without mentioning the lovely score by Anton Karas. It features some great tunes none better that the beloved “Third Man Theme”.
I love “The Third Man”. Everything from its production value to the performances to the mesmerizing story works for me. This is great example of classic film noir and it had me hooked from the opening moments until that perfect final shot. This is a film that may have slid under some people’s classic movie radar. But this film excels in both visual presentation and intelligent storytelling. “The Third Man” is a real gem and it’s a movie that simply must be seen.