Tag Archives: Jeremy Renner

Vanishing America

Wind River

by Hope Madden

In many beautiful and horrific ways, the scripts of Taylor Sheridan (Sicario, Hell or High Water) felt like a reemergence of Cormac McCarthy.

His lean and often quite mean stories have been blessed with two of the more capable visionaries of modern film (David Mackenzie and Denis Villeneuve) – filmmakers whose camerawork, pacing and sense of urgency hauntingly animated the damaged Americana Sheridan’s stories announced.

With his latest, Wind River, Sheridan takes the helm, borrowing inspiration from both directors.

Another tale of violence, bureaucratic vagueries and the vanishing of American heritage, Wind River certainly feels like a Taylor Sheridan film.

Jeremy Renner plays Cory Lambert, sharp shooter for Wyoming’s department of fish and wildlife. He protects livestock from predators – like the three wolves surrounding a flock of sheep in the scene that immediately follows that of a young girl bleeding and dying alone in a frozen wasteland.

Behind the camera, Sheridan is a bit less subtle with symbolism than he might want to be. In fact, though Wind River spins a compelling murder mystery, it’s far more of a blunt instrument than the filmmaker’s last two – admittedly magnificent – efforts as writer.

Perhaps Sicario and Hell or High Water represent too high a bar for a director with only one feature, the 2011 horror flick Vile, under his belt.

Performances are wonderful. Renner’s stoic cowboy unveils genuine tenderness, Gil Birmingham’s brief screen time is a blistering blessing of tumultuous emotion, and Elizabeth Olsen breathes life into a surprisingly one-note role.

Sheridan doesn’t have quite the touch of Villeneuve or Mackenzie, and without it, his material feels a touch too preachy, a whisper too self-righteous, and most troublingly, too white.

Set on a Native American reservation, Lambert is enlisted to help Olsen’s fledgling FBI agent Jane Banner and an understaffed tribal police department solve the crime behind the girl’s death.

And though Renner brings his grieving hunter to the screen with an aching, restrained performance, it’s hard to understand why the character needed to be white. That piece of casting gives the film a “white savior” tenor that only exacerbates that nagging feeling of misplaced self-righteousness.

Wind River is a fine, if flawed, police procedural. Unfortunately, that makes it a bit of a disappointment coming from Sheridan.



To Serve Man


by Hope Madden

Amy Adams is as reliable an actor as they come. Thoughtful and expressive, she shares a tremendous range of emotions without uttering a sound.

With his latest, Arrival, director Denis Villeneuve puts her skills to use to quietly display everything from wonder to terror to hope to gratitude as her character, Dr. Louise Banks, struggles to communicate with visitors.

Twelve vessels have touched down in random spots across the globe: Sierra Leone, Russia, China, United States. Each nation has taken its own tack toward determining the purpose of the aliens. An expert in communication and linguistics, Banks has been brought to Montana to decipher that purpose.

Villeneuve, working from Eric Heisserer’s adaptation of Ted Chiang’s short “Story of Your Life,” whispers reminders of a dozen other alien invasion films without ever bending to predictability. His is a sense of cautious wonder.

Those familiar with the director’s work – particularly his more mainstream films Prisoners and Sicario – may be preparing for the unendurably tense. No need.

Yes, there are armed skirmishes, doomsday predictions and bad decisions, but Villeneuve’s focus and ours is always with Banks, whose struggle to make sense of the situation mirrors our own.

Adams owns a performance that does not immediately dazzle. Banks is a solitary, somewhat morose figure. Her predicament reflects humanity’s – she isn’t using her power to communicate for its true use, connecting.

Villeneuve and Adams toy with your expectations – Adams, because of your preconceived notions concerning her solitude, and Villeneuve through a sly playfulness with time and structure.

This sleight of hand allows the filmmaker to ask questions that are simultaneously grand and intimate. Arrival is a quiet film – not mind-blowing or terrifying or one to elicit a self-satisfied, “Fuck yeah!”

People looking for explosions and jingoism on a global scale need not attend. In its place is a quiet contemplation on speaking, listening and working together. While that may not sound like much excitement, it’s about as relevant a message today as anything I can think of.


Cruising Altitude

Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation

by Hope Madden

Tom Cruise may have finally found a marriage that will work. His partnership with writer/director Christopher McQuarrie has produced four of the actor’s most recent films.

McQuarrie wrote Valkyrie and Edge of Tomorrow (arguably Cruise’s finest film this century), and he wrote and directed both Jack Reacher and Cruise’s latest action extravaganza, Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation.

McQuarrie inherited the series at its peak, Brad Bird’s Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol having brought the franchise back to relevance with talented new teammates, extravagant set pieces, and much-needed humor.

Rogue Nation picks up that same beat. The band’s back together: Cruise’s super-agent Ethan Hunt, skeptical wise cracker Brandt (Jeremy Renner), systems wizard Luther (Ving Rhames), and delightful hacker Benji (Simon Pegg).

Blessedly, the talentless Paula Patton sits this one out.

In her place as the beautiful woman who will appear in only one episode is Rebecca Ferguson as the mysterious double (or triple?) agent Ilsa Faust.

Now disgraced and disavowed by their own government, what’s left of IMF must expose their underworld counterpart The Syndicate to reclaim their status and save the world.

McQuarrie keeps the pace moving with a gliding camera that not only captures the enormity of each sequence, but develops a graceful, controlled urgency about each event.

Truth be told, though, the movie succeeds or fails depending on Cruise, and Ethan Hunt is a great character for the beleaguered movie star. Cruise can show off his still quite impressive physical presence, the script’s use of humor capitalizes on the actor’s underused strengths, and let’s be honest – Cruise has a bit of the crazy-eye, which makes him more believable in the part.

The action sequences are not quite as breathtaking as they were in Ghost Protocol, but they are impressive nonetheless.

What McQuarrie does better than any previous director in the series is to imbue every scene with a bit of humor – enough to exploit the ridiculousness of the situation without actually mocking it. He finds the fun in the familiar old gimmicks and draws on the strengths of his cast to create a blast of entertainment.


Paper Chase


Kill the Messenger

by George Wolf


Every time I catch a bit of All the President’s Men on cable, I end up thinking how that bit of history could never repeat itself today. Two reporters bringing down a President? No way. They’d be targeted by cable news blowhards and whatever party was in power would defend their man to the end, or until the public’s attention returned to the Kardashians and dancing celebrities.

Kill the Messenger makes that case better than I can.

It’s based on the true story of investigative reporter (and former Columbus resident) Gary Webb, who was working for the San Jose Mercury News in 1996 when he uncovered a stunner of a scandal.

In a three-part series entitled “Dark Alliance,” Webb connected the CIA, Contra rebels in Nicaragua, and the USA’s crack cocaine epidemic of the 1980s. Webb alleged that the Reagan administration sidestepped Congress’s ban on direct Contra funding by using the CIA to funnel profits from drugs smuggled into the U.S. directly from Nicaragua.

It was a bombshell exclusive, especially for an outlet the size of the Mercury News, and both the paper and its new star reporter quickly found themselves under heavy scrutiny.

Starring as Webb, Jeremy Renner gives a complete, riveting performance. Taking his character from the gritty details of connecting the dots, to the satisfaction of a job well done, to anger and paranoia when his support system falters, Renner never permits a sliver of doubt to cloud his authenticity.

Director Michael Cuestra crafts the film with both skill and care. He has a thoroughbred in Renner and a strong supporting cast, and Cuestra has no problem finding both humanity and resonance in Webb’s story.

The drawback is that too often, his heart is in too many right places. Exonerating Webb, revealing the depths of a government scandal, and eulogizing hard-nosed journalism are worthy goals, but Cuestra casts such a wide net that the focus becomes unsteady and the end result feels a bit unfinished.

It will still get to you. Renner’s performance, and the harsh light that’s shed on a scandal that deserves it, let Kill the Messenger push through some weak spots and remain vital.





Do the Hustle!

American  Hustle

by Hope Madden

David O. Russell can direct the shit out of a movie, can’t he? He startled his way into our consciousness in ’94 with the unbelievable Spanking the Monkey, followed by a smattering of well-crafted, unmarketable, endlessly watchable films. Then he took a few years off and came back wearing his shootin’ boots.

The Fighter in 2010, followed by Silver Linings Playbook in 2012 racked up a grand total of 3 Oscars and another 13 nominations. That’s the way to shake off the artistic rust.

For his latest, American Hustle, Russell wisely cherry-picks castmates (a couple of Oscar winners among them) from his last two efforts to populate the world of 1978 and Abscam – the FBI sting that took down some corrupt public officials. And, as the screen announces just before the first disco-tastic image, “Some of this actually happened.”

One desperately ambitious FBI agent (an unhinged and glorious Bradley Cooper) pinches two con artists (Christian Bale, Amy Adams – both outstanding) and insists they help him finger other white collar criminals. But his dizzying hunger for significance pushes their con to untenable extremes, and soon these low-flying hustlers are eyeball deep in politicians, Feds and the mafia.

Russell orchestrates con upon con, braiding loyalty with opportunism with showmanship, and providing his dream cast with everything they need to erupt onscreen.

Joining the stellar performers mentioned are the always reliable Jeremy Renner and the reliably brilliant Jennifer Lawrence. As an unpredictable spitfire, Lawrence is right at home. She excels, and Russell teases the absolute most out of her every moment of screen time (it makes no sense now but trust me, you’ll never call a microwave oven by its correct name again).

Louis CK – in his second strong cinematic turn this year (alongside Blue Jasmine) – is a great onscreen curmudgeon, and he offers such a perfect foil for Cooper’s combustible lead that their scenes together are a scream.

Honestly, with the electricity on screen whenever Lawrence or Cooper appear, it’s almost possible to overlook Bale and Adams, but what a mistake that would be! Bale crawls into this character, as he does every character, and convinces us of the sleazy but good-hearted schlub inside this grifter.

Likewise, Adams – a performer so expressive with just a look – keeps you on your toes. It’s her flawless work as Edith (or is that Sydney?) that keeps all the cons spinning at once, and you never know exactly where her loyalties lie. In fact, you’re pretty sure she isn’t certain. Unless she’s just playing you.

While Russell’s fondness for Goodfellas colors the entire running time, there’s no question that his creation finds its own way and becomes something unique and fantastic. The writing is exceptional, the performances volcanic, and the result is the sharpest and most explosively funny movie in Oscar contention.