Amazon Prime has released season 3 of their excellent original series Goliath and I pretty much binged the thing in one night. While the first entry set the stage for a darkly funny, deeply emotional and consistently eccentric brand of storytelling, season 2 diverged from that into the decidedly perverse and unconventional in terms of a narrative bereft of catharsis, obvious beats or satisfactory resolution. That’s not to say it wasn’t good, it was just… different. This third season both continues to trailblazer those off colour paths and also gets back to the roots of what made the first season such an engaging genesis.
Billy Bob Thornton’s Billy McBride takes on the case of his old buddy (Griffin Dunne) whose wife (Sherilyn ‘Audrey Horne’ Fenn) has a deep connection to their past and has now died under mysterious circumstances. This eventually pits McBride and his trusty motley crew up against the deranged Blackwood clan and their acolytes, an elite society of billionaire ranchers who are corrupt to the bone, willfully malicious and have been stealing the county’s water for their own gross financial gain. Led by brother and sister Wade (Dennis Quaid) and Diana (Amy Brenneman), they and their peeps prove to be a titanic adversary for Billy & Co. and the story here feels fresh, funny, immediate and fully fleshed out right down to the smaller roles and one episode arc players. I love this show because it doesn’t just cast ‘of the moment’ stars, attractive young blood or flavour of the month hotshots like a lot of other stuff, it delves back into the collective cinematic and televised past and pulls out some truly talented people that we maybe haven’t seen onscreen in the past decade or so but certainly haven’t forgotten and recall with a smile as soon as they show up. As such we get excellent work from folks like Beau Bridges, Illeanna Douglas, Julia Jones, the great Graham Greene, Monica Potter, musician Paul Williams and season 1 villain William Hurt who comes back with a nasty vengeance here.
Thornton rocks the McBride role, cultivating the jet black humour, deadpan self deprecation and fiercely guarded but incredibly soulful empathy that make the character come alive and the performance stick in your mind. Nina Arianda returns as ruthless scene stealer Patty Solis-Papagian (pronounce it wrong and I wouldn’t wanna be you) and steals scenes harder than she ever has, this girl whips up Emmy worthy work and makes it seem effortless. The season focuses a lot on the villains and their struggles as well as their wicked acts, particularly Quaid and Brenneman who are both flat out phenomenal. There’s this kinky, just plain wrong aesthetic between the two of them but they never seem like moustache twirlers or one note monsters, always complicated and conflicted. You get a sense of region, of history and of real human strife on their side of things and I heartily applaud all artists involved for the work put in to invoke such a world and such reactions from me. The narrative is airtight to this season too and feels as conclusive as a hammer blow while still leaving plenty of room for more story and keeping one ever present, omniscient antagonist in the wings for more storytelling later. Also kept up is the strange, experimental and increasingly surreal style, and you haven’t seen anything until you’ve seen Dennis Quaid take peyote and dream that he’s singing Conway Twitty’s Some Say Love to an auditorium packed with other Dennis Quaid’s. He’s got some pipes too. All in all this is such a rich, unique and invigorating piece of storytelling and I hope they never cancel it.
Thunderheart is a terrific effort that coasted by to fine reviews back in the 90’s and has since not only aged well but earned just a smidge of cult status. It’s a politically charged, racially themed, hard boiled mystery thriller set in and around a troubled Sioux Native Reservation in the badlands of South Dakota. Val Kilmer is the rookie FBI agent assigned to the case, and here’s the kicker: he’s a halfbreed, part American, part Native, and as such the stakes couldn’t be higher or the moral ground more complex for an investigation that’s anything but routine. Politically charged and full of dead ends, red herrings and setups, it’s a knockout of a flick that genuinely keeps you guessing. Kilmer’s character has two mentors, which I saw as the conflict that exists within him from being both a white American lawman and and having Native blood. His senior partner Sam Shepherd is the cynical, jaded hard edge of the bureau, a persona he himself is starting to cultivate, while motorbike riding, salt of the earth Native reservation cop Graham Greene calls attention to his past, the land he’s now on and the people that came before. There’s a lot of ancestral memory tied into the story too, as we see him have visions from hundreds of years ago that guide him through the dangerous and unpredictable mystery he’s trying to solve. Fred Dalton Thompson has a bit as the senator who sends the two agents out there to see what’s up, and character actor Fred Ward is nasty business as a local mercenary who’s perpetually up to no good and almost seems to be based on a real life individual, uncanny that. It’s pulp that makes you think, and has a beating heart behind every bit of intrigue, a film that’s long been underestimated but has a lot more to say than the lurid action movie cover art might suggest. Highly recommended.
“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.