Tag Archives: Taylor Sheridan

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.



Texas Two Step

Hell or High Water

by Hope Madden

Two brothers in West Texas go on a bank robbing spree. Marshalls with cowboy hats pursue. It’s a familiar idea, certainly, and Hell or High Water uses that familiarity to its advantage. Director David Mackenzie (Starred Up) embraces the considerable talent at his disposal to create a lyrical goodbye to a long gone, romantic notion of manhood.

Two pairs of men participate in this moseying road chase. Brothers Toby and Tanner – Chris Pine and Ben Foster, respectively – are as seemingly different as the officers trying to find them. Those Texas Marshalls, played with the ease that comes from uncommon talent, are Marcus (Jeff Bridges) and Alberto (Gil Birmingham).

Though both pairs feel like opposites at first blush, their relationships are more complicated than you might imagine. Foster, a magnificent character actor regardless of the film, is a playful menace. Though Pine’s Toby spends the majority of the film quietly observing, his bursts of energy highlight the kinship. Their often strained banter furthers the story, but moments of humor – many landing thanks to Foster’s wicked comic sensibility – do more to authenticate the relationship.

Likewise, Bridges – wearing the familiar skin of a grizzled old cowboy – makes every line, every breath, ever racist barb feel comfortably his own. Birmingham impresses as well, quietly articulating a relationship far muddier than the dialog alone suggests.

These four know what to do with Taylor Sheridan’s words.

Sheridan more than impressed with his screenwriting debut, last year’s blistering Sicario. Among other gifts, the writer remembers that every character is a character and his script offers something of merit to every body on the screen – a gift this cast does not disregard.

The supporting actors populating a dusty, dying landscape make their presence felt, whether Dale Dickey’s wizened bank teller, Katy Mixon’s spunky diner waitress, or a hilarious Margaret Bowman as another waitress you do not want to cross.

Even with the film’s unhurried narrative, not a moment of screen time is wasted. You see it in the investment in minor characters and in the utter, desolate gorgeousness of Giles Nuttgen’s photography. Every image Mackenzie shares adds to the air of melancholy and inevitability as our heroes, if that’s what you’d call any of these characters, fight the painful, oppressive, emasculating tide of change.

A film as well written, well acted, well photographed and well directed as Hell or High Water is rare. Do not miss it.