Taylor Sheridan’s superb Wind River is a skilful blend of mystery, character study, and social commentary set in an eternally wintry Wind River Indian reservation in Wyoming.
After Jeremy Renner’s Wildlife Service agent discovers the body of a young woman in the wilderness, rookie FBI agent Elizabeth Olsen utilizes Renner’s knowledge of the people and the terrain to help track the killer. What begins as a routine murder investigation evolves into something deeply personal, as the body is that of the daughter of a close Native American friend of Renner’s, and whose death bring back some haunting memories to the fore; the investigation also proves to be a trial by fire for Olsen, whose somewhat green FBI agent is unaware as to the unrest in this isolated, frozen part of Wyoming. (“Doesn’t anyone know it’s spring!” Olsen exclaims at one frustrating point for her character.)
There are several factors that make Wind River work so well. There is Sheridan’s fine script and direction that is refreshingly not overstated; there is also the well-paced, gradual escalation of tension leading to a climactic confrontation that would make certain action directors (Peckinpah, Aldrich, Tarantino) very proud; and there is a beautifully delineated relationship between Renner’s conflicted and humane tracker and Olsen’s naïve but resilient agent—Renner, in particular, delivers his finest performance yet (yes I’m including The Hurt Locker) as the resourceful, instinctual, man of action who is also imbued with great compassion, especially for Olsen and his grief-stricken friend. The ending image is both satisfying and thought-provoking; hopefully, you’ll see for yourself, since Wind River is one the best films of the year.
Atomic Blonde features Charlize Theron in good, intense, athletic form as a spy in 1989 Berlin around the fall of the Berlin Wall—her mission is to find “the list”—a piece of microfilm that has the names of every active agent, and has been stolen by a burly KGB agent. The fact that this KGB agent killed another agent close to Theron spurs her on even more. Helping matters (or maybe not) is James McAvoy as Theron’s fellow agent, stationed in Berlin and engaged in several shadowy enterprises—also on hand is John Goodman as a CIA bigwig who may have his own ax to grind and an assortment of characters: Russian, French and British-all who may not be exactly what they seem. The convoluted plot takes all kinds of twists and turns, none of which are particularly plausible, but the action scenes are very well done—as Theron’s scrapes with and escapes from various KGB henchmen are exciting and exhilarating, as opposed to merely exhausting (which has been the case with other so-called action thrillers). In addition, McAvoy and Theron are in fine fettle, with Theron managing to incorporate traces of humanity into her relentless spy character.
THE DARK TOWER
The Dark Tower is really not so much a disaster as it is a disappointment. Adapted from Stephen King’s successful series, The Dark Tower recalls other more successful films and novels (including King’s), while not really adding anything of its own. There’s the Gunslinger (a dour Idris Elba), the kid with “the shine” (Tom Taylor), the Devil (or something like him, as portrayed by a slumming Matthew McConaughey) and a lot of folderol about middle Earth, house demons, and a tower that can preserve life as we know it—but only if it continues to stand. King fans and fantasy fans expected a lot, but everything seems either too hurried (as in the relationship between Gunslinger and child) or too generic (the CGI battles, the mother/son relationship), or even too comical, as in the pursuit of the child by McConaughey's minions (who remind me of those incompetent henchmen employed in Republic serials of long ago). In addition, McConaughey's character is saddled with lines that might have looked good on paper (like his “Stop breathing”) but have little impact on the big screen. The movie leaves you primed for a big-screen sequel--but I wouldn’t bet on it.