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Film Review: Wind River

“Out Here, You Either Survive Or You Surrender…”

Although first brought to my attention as the short lived Deputy Hale in FX’s Sons of Anarchy, Taylor Sheridan has effectively reinvented himself as one of the most effective and reliable scriptwriters Hollywood has to offer over the course of just two years, with the Denis Villeneuve directed Sicario and last year’s ballsy heist drama Hell or High Water, two of the most hard edged, grit fuelled thrillers to brace the big screen in quite a while, and too films which although featured extensive action set pieces and white-knuckle levels of tension, understood that in order to make a film of such an ilk be more than just surface, development and characterisation of the leading players is ultimately key and the true basis of any decent film’s narrative. Whether it be the battle between morality and revenge in the likes of Sicario or the double-edged sword of family and justice in Hell or High Water, Sheridan’s writing has so far always brilliantly balanced audience-pleasing drama with enough substance to make them much more than your average run-of-the-mill crime tale. Taking the jump this week onto directorial as well as scriptwriting duties, Sheridan’s latest release comes in the form of Wind River, a Scandi-inflicted crime drama set in the heart of the titular Indian Reservation in Wyoming, U.S, and a film which continues rather enjoyably the success rate of Sheridan, a filmmaker who is starting to earn a reputation as an auteur of modern day crime drama.

After the body of a deceased 18 year old female is found by local Wildlife Sevice Agent, Cory Lambert (Jeremy Renner) in the scarce, bitter landscapes of the snow-covered plains of Wyoming, rookie FBI agent Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen) is flown in to assist with the investigation in order to establish both a cause of death and whether a murderer is hiding within the vicious cold of the out-dated, unforgiving mountainous American state. Akin more to the likes of Hell or High Water than Sicario, Wind River is once again the character driven drama audiences have come to expect from the writings of Sheridan, and whilst there is indeed explosive action set pieces and a frighteningly executed concluding chapter, the film spends most of its’ time layering substance upon substance on the key players within the base of the narrative, particularly Renner’s Lambert, a practical, unflinching hunter who through a past trauma has more reason than most to attempt to solve the mystery which unravels trepidatiously throughout the course of the movie. With sweeping cinematography from DP Ben Richardson and a haunting, whispering score from Nick Cave, Wind River is the most low-key of the Sheridan back-catalogue to date, but with sparking leading performances and a nail-biting final movement, Sheridan’s latest is an absorbing, brilliantly written crime thriller. Who would expect anything less?

Overall Score: 8/10

Film Review: Lion

“I Had Another Family. A Mother, A Brother. I Can Still See Their Faces…”

Arriving in the season of Oscar madness, Lion, the directorial debut from Gareth Davis, is the cinematic adaptation of Saroo Brierley’s non-fiction book, “A Long Way Home”, an autobiographical account of the extraordinary tale of the Indian-born Aussie, who after being separated from his family in Central India at a young age remarkably sets upon reuniting with his long-lost siblings after a staggering 25 years, resulting in the sort of movie you’d expect to be part of the many conversations regarding the upcoming Academy Awards, particularly regarding its’ undeniably touching screenplay. Whilst Lion boasts a fundamentally humane and uplifting narrative basis, one which inevitably results in being an effective tear-jerking tale of the power of human nature, Davis’ debut falls short of being a really excellent drama and instead settles for nothing more than being a solid adaptation of an interesting tale of one man’s journey to rekindle his lost love.

With Dev Patel in the leading role, the links between Lion and Slumdog Millionaire are entirely obvious and unfortunately expected, particularly in regards to the two films’ similar narratives, albeit one being entirely fictional and the other based upon true events. Furthermore, where Danny Boyle’s movie succeeded is where Gareth Davis’s ultimately falls flat, with the riveting and sharp feel of Slumdog being entirely absent within Lion, a film which takes way too long to actually get going and one which would have benefited from actually being at least twenty minutes shorter, particularly in its’ plodding second act where the elder Saroo attempts to locate his lost family, a particular shame when regarding the strong opening portion of the movie in which we witness the younger Saroo’s efforts of survival throughout the mass maze of Central India. With captivating performances from both Nicole Kidman and young newcomer Sunny Pawar, Lion seems to transcend an extraordinary tale from page to screen with some degree of success, yet its’ moments of prolonged tedium in certain areas of the film leave you slightly underwhelmed come the closing credits.

Overall Score: 6/10

Film Review: Southpaw

Get In The Ring

Sitting side-by-side with the release of Inside Out this week is the release of Southpaw, a boxing drama which focuses on the rise and fall of Jake Gyllenhaal’s (Donnie Darko, Zodiac) Billy Hope after witnessing the death of his beloved wife (Rachel McAdams, True Detective) whilst being directed by Antoine Fuqua, the American mastermind behind the Oscar Winning Training Day and the not-so-Oscar-winning The Equalizer from last year. What brought the most anticipation from the film for me personally however, aside from the brilliant Gyllenhaal, was its’ scriptwriter, Kurt Sutter, the architect behind one of the most addictive shows of recent years, Sons of Anarchy, who takes full control of the story for the very first time in a cinematic format after years of making waves on the small screen. The question that needs to be answered therefore is does Sutter’s first taste of Hollywood pull out all the punches or does it find itself seriously on the ropes? I’d say somewhere in between.

Throughout the course of the movies two-hour runtime, there are examples of Sutter in his prime, particularly in regards to scenes in which we witness out hero Hope break down under the influence of his wife’s loss, showing how in moments of desperation and despair, Sutter’s writing can flourish. One obvious difference for me between Southpaw and Sons of Anarchy for example was the way in which I never felt guilty or treacherous in my support for the films’ lead, something of which I felt whilst watching Sons of Anarchy where the bulk of the time, our supposed “heroes” are off committing murder or some other form of major crime. Of course, one of the reasons Sutter’s writing works so well is mainly due in part to the performance of Gyllenhaal, who once again astutely showcases his talent as an actor and gives the best sporting performance I’ve seen since Christian Bale in The Fighter, a performance that subsequently won him an Oscar, whilst solidly being supported by the veteran of cinema that is Forest Whitaker as coach Titus Wills.

In terms of the overall quality of the film however, Southpaw’s connection with The Fighter ultimately stops there however with the latter being a much better piece of cinema as a whole, whilst the former having flashes of brilliance, particularly in the nail-biting fight sequences, but overall feeling rather cliched and even cringe-worthy in some places, particularly the “guest” additions of both the pimp-looking Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson and the rather worse-for-wear Rita Ora, who although improves from her rather pants cameo in Fifty Shades of Grey, doesn’t exactly inspire hope for any chance of a future career away from BBC One and into Hollywood. So for a first shot at the gates of Hollywood, Sutter gives it his all in producing a script worthy of a one-time viewing, but definitely nothing more, whilst director Fuqua definitely improves on the rather arduous watch that was last years’ The Equalizer and succeeds in producing a film that lasts as many rounds as it needs to, but ultimately fails to launch that final, winning blow.

Overall Score: 6/10