Tag Archives: Taylor Sheridan

Sicario 2: Day Of The Soldado

I have to be brutally honest about this, but Sicario 2: Day Of The Soldado is nowhere close to a worthy sequel, let alone a good film. After mulling it over a bit since I saw it a few weeks ago, it just feels hollow, superficial and weak in all the places the first one was provocative, mythic and haunting. My main gripe is that it has nothing really to say; the first was deep, dark and dense, with a thoughtful screenplay by Taylor Sheridan brought to life by Denis Villeneuve’s concise, nerve wracking direction, it challenged today’s political climate and casted dark shadows on the anthropological coordinates of present day North and Central America. This one feels like a lurid death trap of violence without weight, thin characterization and a weirdly conceived narrative that misses all the beats and ends up nowhere. Benicio Del Toro and Josh Brolin return as antihero assassin Alejandro and cavalier special ops spook Matt, this time trying to start a big ol’ cartel war by kidnapping the daughter (Isabela Moner) of one boss to frame the another, thereby letting the animals wipe each other out and stop the new trend of these cartels smuggling in Muslim terrorists onto American soil so they can blow up innocent families in shopping malls, which we see here in unnecessarily sickening, gratuitous fashion. This is all sanctioned in clandestine by the stony US secretary of defence (Matthew Modine) and overseen by Brolin’s icy handler (Catherine Keener has fun with the dialogue), and naturally it all goes tits up before too long. When Alejandro and the cartel’s kid find themselves on their own following an ambush, there’s an opportunity for developing his character farther and seeing some kind of redemption, which at first seems like it may happen until Sheridan shuts it down hard and veers the story off into some other stuff that drags and just puts Del Toro’s arc in the doldrums. Brolin finally has a crisis of conscience, but it’s too little too late when we get there. Also, the whole terrorist angle just does not work, and feels totally shoehorned in. The first film, although ultimately fictional, felt like it could indeed be playing out for real somewhere out there, everything was drawn from things we’ve known to be authentic. But cartels moving jihadists across the border for attacks on American cities? Come on now, I could practically feel the influence over Sheridan’s shoulder to work that in somehow. I did enjoy the cinematography by Dariusz Wolski and score by Hildur Guonodóttir, taking over from the late Johann Johansson, but since she’s worked with him on projects in the past, the feeling in the music remains just as austere and menacing. This is just all over the place though, completely lacking the darkly pristine focus and portentous drive of the first. At the end it feels like a big blast of nothing, and if anything it just made me appreciate the first one more.

-Nate Hill

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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

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. 

DENIS VILLENEUVE’S SICARIO – A Review by Frank Mengarelli

“You should move to a small town, somewhere the rule of law still exists. You will not survive here. You are not a wolf, and this is a land of wolves now.”

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SICARIO is a blunt unveiling of the dark side of America’s foreign policy.  Set on the Mexican border, the film follows a shadow team made up of different agencies shaking down drug cartels, all the while the team plays kingmaker by rearranging power.  The plot and political commentary is dense.  Not once does the film come across as heavy handed, nor does it preach bias.  In turn, it makes the film that much more powerful and brutally honest.

The brilliant cinematic team of filmmaker Denis Villeneuve and cinematographer Roger Deakins (who are reteaming for the untitled BLADE RUNNER sequel) are a force to be reckoned with.  Villeneuve keeps a taut and thrilling pace, while Deakins composes remarkable visuals frame by frame.  Taylor Sheridan’s icy script, Johann Johannsson’s score, and Joe Walker’s editing complement the film in a perfect way, keeping the tight narrative intact while balancing such heavy subject matter.

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The cast is led by the idealistic Emily Blunt, supported by the realist CIA man Josh Brolin, and the lethal assassin Benicio Del Toro who all give career high performances and play off of one another in a way that meshes the film together wonderfully.  Blunt is amazing.  She’s more than a badass woman with a gun; she’s the heart of the film.  She’s out for blood after members of her team get killed on a cartel raid in the opening scene, and she’s lured in by the affable Brolin, promising to cure her bloodlust if she comes along on his secret mission.  Most importantly, the reality of what the team is doing slowly starts to grind at her, and she quickly begins to realize that what they are doing is not the “right” thing to do.

Benicio Del Toro is the standout in an already masterful film.  His stoicism is this mysterious fuse that is slowly burning.  The entire film, we know nothing about him, until the third act where we learn everything in one short and impactful scene.  The scene is so jaw dropping, that even upon rewatching the film; you can’t believe it is actually happening.

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There are few Hollywood films that are as bold as SICARIO.  The thematic elements are heavy, as is the brutal violence, but what the film is saying is what makes it so powerful.  Sometimes America needs to bring down the iron fist to be the overall good guy.  Regardless of morality or holding ourselves to a higher standard, the world needs a shadow team like the one in SICARIO to help restore and counter the evil powers that be in this world.

DENIS VILLENEUVE’S SICARIO — A REVIEW BY NICK CLEMENT

2Conceived with an incredible sense of grim fatalism and a cynical worldview that feels both refreshingly honest and tack-sharp, Denis Villeneuve’s utterly masterful Mexican drug cartel thriller Sicario is a feast for the senses while never skimping on introspective character beats and pulse-pounding action. Written with obvious research and keen intelligence by Taylor Sheridan, the film rarely feels “American,” in the sense that it offers up a damning portrait of a literal hell on earth (in this case Juarez, Mexico) and plunges the viewer head-first into disturbingly violent areas of society without ever pulling any punches; it’s a kindred spirit to something like Sean Ellis’ gripping Metro Manila and the absurdly underrated Miss Bala from director Gerardo Naranjo, two recent foreign thrillers that make mincemeat of the stateside competition. In Sicario, Villeneuve continues his red-hot-streak after Incendies, Enemy, and Prisoners (still need to see Polytechnique), and in tandem with the incomparable cinematographer Roger Deakins, has crafted an immersive topical thriller that stings with believability, inevitability, and a guiding sense of logical, clear-cut storytelling. It’s also the most tension-packed film I’ve seen in a theater since No Country for Old Men; at no point could I ever guess what was coming next and the level of atmospheric dread on display due to the insane sound design and haunting visuals kept me literally on edge for two hours.

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I had heard it mentioned recently on the internets that the film was a cross between Zero Dark Thirty and Traffic, and that’s not too far off – it’s as accomplished as both of those fantastic pieces of work, and while indebted to them in some ways, Sicario is its own, visceral animal from the very first frame. Emily Blunt, as usual, is tough as nails as an Arizona FBI/SWAT member drafted by some hush-hush superiors to tag along on a covert mission in Mexico to eliminate a major drug dealer. Josh Brolin and Benicio Del Toro are her mysterious handlers, who aren’t interested in providing too much background on their employers or their ultimate end-games; both actors are incredible, with Del Toro dropping an Oscar worthy performance that cuts hard both emotionally and physically. The numerous action scenes sizzle with bloody ferocity, never going over the top or reveling in the carnage, but being upfront about the damage that bullets will do to the human body. This is a dark, disturbing, totally nihilistic movie that’s not interested in being your friend or making you smile. It’s about something real and current and important and Villeneuve is too smart a filmmaker to start preaching or moralizing. It is what it is – and in this world – nobody is going home happy. And then there’s the film’s final shot, which implies so much without having to speak a word. I can’t wait to see this film again and again and again and again.