Tag Archives: Gil Birmingham

Taylor Sheridan’s Wind River


“I knew this girl, and she was a fighter. However far you think she ran, I can promise you she ran farther…”
I couldn’t find an exact verbatim quote, but that’s the kind of affecting, succinctly written dialogue to be found in Taylor Sheridan’s Wind River, a deeply moving knockout of a film. The third in a so far brilliant stateside saga dubbed the ‘frontier trilogy’ (following Sicario and Hell Or Highwater), River is the beast of the bunch, a surprisingly emotional, fully engaging murder mystery set in yet another harsh, weather beaten vista where life struggles to survive, namely a desolate Indian reservation in the heart of Wyoming. We open with life in jeopardy right out of the gate: as Nick Cave’s haunting original score howls across the snowy plain, a terrified young girl flees through the landscape, alone and injured. She doesn’t make it through the night. This sparks an investigation from the scant law enforcement the area has to offer (Graham Greene is wonderfully world weary as the tribal Sheriff), a rookie FBI Agent (Elizabeth Olsen) and a veteran game tracker (Jeremy Renner in hands down the best work he’s ever done) who’s rocked by his own personal tragedy. Their task is anything but easy, stalled on all sides by criminal activity, uncooperative suspects and that ever present, ruthless winter climate. The mystery, although not quite as elaborate as one might imagine going in, is an unfortunate and infuriating situation that fires up the blood, as well as Renner’s dogged hunting instinct and need for retribution, an act he solemnly promises to the girl’s broken father, played by Gil Birmingham in the kind of show stopping, heartbreaking performance that pretty much demands a best supporting nod. Renner is just… so good, and it’s jarring to see him out of that glossy Hawkeye getup and in a role with some real heft, but he carries himself with grave charisma, especially in a monologue that will have eyes, ears and hearts rooted to the screen. This is Sheridan’s first time in the director’s chair and the guy proves he’s just as uncannily gifted as he is with writing, especially when it comes to action, his rendition of the classic Mexican standoff/shootout is queasily suspenseful and the best sequence of it’s kind that I’ve seen in years. He’s also got a knack for finding just the right musical talent for his pictures as well. Sicario saw Jóhann Jóhannsson whip up an audible nightmare of a score, and Hell Or Highwater also had the benefit of Cave and Warren Ellis, whose compositions here echo out through the desolation like laments for those lost, dead and buried under the snow. Tightly paced, emotionally rich, suffocating in it’s scenes of tension, cathartically invigorating when it needs to be, all of the best things a story should be are on display here. If Sheridan’s output continues to ascend the way we’ve seen so far, he’ll singlehandedly save ol’ Hollywood. 

-Nate Hill

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Hell Or Highwater: A Review by Nate Hill 

Hell Or Highwater is an acrid, mournful little tumbleweed lullaby sung at the American southwest, a tale of hard times and desperate men infused with the laconic nature of the area and given the spare yet hard hitting writing skills of Taylor Sheridan, who also penned the equally bleak Sicario. I wasn’t quite sure what time period he was going for here until Jeff Bridges’s salty Texas Ranger brandishes a smartphone, signifying the present. I imagined an 80’s throwback, but I suppose the vacuous dereliction hanging about the rural West has only gathered with time, in a place where time has curiously seemed to halt dead in a financial sinkhole where not much of anything in the way of hard earned success can flourish. Chris Pine and Ben Foster play brothers and partners in crime, in the thick of a statewide bank robbing spree which gets progressivly more dangerous, all to save a piece of property from the big banks threatening to foreclose. They’re not evil men, they’re not even bad men because Sheridan’s script doesn’t allow such stark delineation. They are men forced to make decisions, just like any other, yet in times like these one’s decisions are often of an extreme nature, out of self preservation or desire to protect one’s family. Pine is the introverted one, and the actor disappears into the role with ease and scruffy calm that contrasts his usal golden boy charm. Foster is the live wire, a man who functions on mostly instinct alone, lives in the moment and reacts like an animal from situation to situation. Quite the actor he is, and hasn’t been let completely off the chain since 2004’s Hostage. Here he fills the screen with intensity and much needed humour. The two have love for each other that occasionally peeks through the cloud of trouble they’re flying in, the film adament in showing us their damaged humanity through the desperation of their actions. Bridges is crusty and jaded, the badge and gun serving as his only family other than the uneasy camaraderie he has with his younger partner (Gil Birmingham), a man he berates solely because he seems incapable of proper human interaction, no doubt a result of decades on the job, wandering through the desolation of the desert hunting men who have broken their lives and wishing he ever had one of his own to begin with. There’s an emptiness to this tale, a lonely ambience punctuated by many a beautiful song from both Nick Cave, T Bone Burnett and more, whose downbeat lyrics only pile on the mood thicker. The film wants to examine the need to go to extreme measures in times of strife, but holds us in our seat long after the deed is done to show us the ramifications, both negative and positive, of such actions. The result isn’t pretty, but it’s damn well beautiful and one of the best films I’ve seen so far this year.