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Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

All my aimless thoughts, ideas, and ramblings, all packed into one site!

Tag Archives: Gil Birmingham

Wind River (2017)

Those poor white people. Right?

US Fish and Wildlife Service agent Cory Lambert (Jeremy Renner) is sent to the Wind River Indian Reservation, where he will hopefully be able to track, find, and kill a bunch of mountain lions who have been killing all of the livestock. While searching for them, he stumbles upon the body of a woman, who, from what it seems like, was raped, possibly murdered, and left to freeze in the below-zero snow. After catching wind of this, the FBI sends in rookie agent Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen), who seems like she’s not just unprepared for the harsh winter of Wyoming, but for this case in general. Because she doesn’t really know the area that well, how to navigate through it all, and/or whether what the rules are, she depends a lot on Cory, who is also now taking an extra interest in this case, for personal reasons. The two begin to stumble upon a rather dark and vicious secret lying within the mountains and makes them not just question their own humanity, but the United States’ history, altogether.

FBI? Really?

Wind River is the directorial debut of writer/director Taylor Sheridan who, both with Sicario and Hell or High Water, seems to have found his niche. He loves these tales of crime, violence, and darkness that start off slow and melodic, only to then burst into full-fledged blood, guts, bullets, octane, and guns. And it’s interesting because while Wind River feels a lot like those two other movies, something is oddly missing.

Still don’t know what it is, but you can feel it.

Either way, as a director Sheridan is fine; he captures the deadly cold of this winter-y landscape and shows it as a solid backdrop for even more viciousness and deadliness that we eventually start to see. He gets a bit out-of-hand with all of the visual symbolism and expository dialogue, but as a whole, he knows when to shut up, give us action, characters, and a plot that’s interesting to follow along with. And I know that sounds like film-making 101, but you’d be surprised how many movies screw things up for themselves, just by getting a little distracted by other stuff that doesn’t matter.

Wind River, as a whole, is a pretty straightforward tale of humans acting at their worst, but also at their best, and because of that Sheridan does a lot with very little. He’s able to draw us into this setting, understand its history, the characters, and why these characters matter. Renner’s Cory, while feeling like he may have initially been a Native American in the first few drafts, still works as a white guy because he has a certain connection this land, to these people, and to what they represent; it also helps that the movie does sort of call him out for trying to be a white savior, making it seem fine that he’s a white guy, trying to save the day. Sheridan’s writing isn’t very stylish, but he’s got a certain noir-aspect about him that works in making us know everything we need to know about these characters, without getting too carried away.

Eh. Doesn’t look so bad.

It’s constantly moving and that’s why Wind River works.

And as Cory, Renner is quite good; he’s his usual charming-self, although he doesn’t overplay that too much. He’s still a screwed-up guy who has had to deal with a lot in his life and doesn’t allow us to forget about it. His chemistry with Elizabeth Olsen is also pretty good, in that the movie never allows it to get too romanticized or cloying. They’re just both trying to figure out this case, who the baddies are, and do their jobs, like normal, everyday human beings who want to make the world a better place.

Olsen is also very good in this role, despite being very young and seeming in-over-her-head. But then again, that’s sort of the point, so it works out well; Gil Birmingham, who shined last year in Hell or High Water, has a nice few emotional scenes that work well; Graham Greene, as usual, is great, giving us a lot of comedy to go along with a lot of the seriousness; and Jon Bernthal, in a few scenes or so, does a great job, too. However, it’s his role and a few others that I have a problem going on further about because, well, the movie sort of surprises us with these characters randomly by the end.

But hey, just see it and you’ll know what I’m speaking of.

Consensus: Cold, dark and pretty brutal, Wind River may not measure up to Sheridan’s past two movies, but still fits in well with them, providing plenty of solid thrills, to go along with the chills.

7 / 10

Always depend on the whites to come in and save the day.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

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Hell or High Water (2016)

Crime? Yeah. Keep it in the family.

Toby and Tanner Howard set out to rob a bunch of banks across the Texas region, but for what reasons? Toby (Chris Pine) has two kids that he’s got to support, whereas Tanner (Ben Foster), doesn’t really. The two are brothers who haven’t been in contact much all of these years, but for some reason, have now caught back up to do a bunch of a bank jobs, save up some money, and become all nice and rich. However, hot on their tail is aging, almost-retired Texas Ranger Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges). While the brothers think they have the plan down to a T and are going to run into no mishaps along the road, of course, they do end up actually having some issues, whether it be poor-planning, or Tanner acting out in violent, sometimes dangerous ways. Either way, the bros have a plan that they’re going to stick to and stay alive with, even if Hamilton knows a thing or two about robbers of these sorts and isn’t going to back down from a challenge, even if his older age is telling him that it’s time to settle down and just retire already.

The bros that live together, grow competing mustaches together.

The bros that live together, grow competing mustaches together.

It’s nice to get a movie as relaxed and laid-back as Hell or High Water, yet, at the same time, still be tense and on-edge while watching it. Director David Mackenzie knows his way around a suspenseful sequence and doesn’t shy away from kicking up the action to high-gear, whenever he sees fit. However, he also makes the smart decision to slow things down whenever is necessary, so that we get a sense of this setting, these characters, their relationships, and just exactly what’s at-stake. Honestly, it’s movie-making 101, but for some reason, it still surprises me that we get so few of that in movies nowadays that when I do get it, it’s a nice and pleasant surprise.

Which is why, for the late-summer, Hell or High Water is definitely a nice jump of joy.

It’s not the kind of movie that breaks down barriers, or brings peace to the whole world, but it’s the kind of movie that shows how much can be done, with so little. Even when it seems like Mackenzie and writer Taylor Sheridan are way too comfortable and don’t really have anywhere to go, they all of a sudden pull something from underneath the rug and give us an action-sequence, a speech, or just a conversation between two characters that’s just as exciting as any of the shoot-outs or car-chases. Although, that isn’t to say that the shoot-outs and car-chases are fun and exciting, because they most definitely are, but they aren’t the bulk of the movie and that’s what matters most.

In a way, Hell or High Water is much more about some sort of political statement than any sort of popcorn crime-thriller; sure, it takes absolute joy in being all about sweaty Southern gals and pals cussing and shooting and robbing, but it also enjoys having a little something to say about these aspects as well. It’s a lot like a 99 Homes in that it speaks out against the government, the banks, and the whole entire system that would make two brothers feel as if they needed to rip-off of a bunch of banks, for whatever reason. The movie’s very hush-hush on their reasoning until a certain point (which, when it is revealed, makes a lot of sense and is pretty damn smart), but it’s more about how a world like ours can produce people to rebel and fight back against a system that’s constantly ripping them off and robbing them of their own goods and will.

It’s less preachy than I make it sound, trust me, but it’s still effective all the same.

That’s why a cast like this is so good and so needed to make sure that all of the material comes off organically; to have a bunch of silly, sometimes cartoonish Southerners go on and on about society and the United States government would get to be a bit old and not believable, but the ensemble does make it all work. But when they aren’t spouting-off their political ideas or beliefs, they’re also building their characters up to be understandable human beings, and not just goofy characters in a crime-thriller.

She's probably the biggest bad-ass of them all, and she doesn't even rob a bank. Or does she?

She’s probably the biggest bad-ass of them all, and she doesn’t even rob a bank. Or does she?

For instance, the brotherhood between Ben Foster and Chris Pine’s characters is so well-written, yet subtle, that you feel as if they’ve known each other their whole lives, have had issues in the past, but have gotten over all of them for the sake of growing older and allowing for bygones to be bygones. Foster is a compelling nutcase, whereas Pine is a lot smaller and understated, but all the more interesting, as we know that he’s got a head on his shoulder, but why he’s doing what he’s doing is always left in the air. It does eventually get answered, but really, it’s the mystery that keeps him so watchable.

And then, of course, there’s the always reliable Jeff Bridges, in full-on Rooster Cogburn-form, howling and cackling as much as he possibly can. But no matter what, he’s always lovable and fun-to-watch, even when it seems like his character may be running into caricature-territory. However, as good as he may be, it’s really Gil Birmingham who steals the show, offering a sweeter look into the life on an American that we don’t always see in movies, nor do we see get all that much attention as he does here. It’s the kind of quiet and contained performance that gets overlooked with so many big names and big performances, but it’s the kind that I loved and made me want to see more of, even if it’s just a supporting character.

Still though, he deserves his own movie and it’s one that I definitely wouldn’t mind watching.

Consensus: Small and understated, yet, still tense, exciting, compelling and most importantly, well-acted, Hell or High Water is a nice diversion from the rest of what the summer’s got to offer and definitely well worth a look.

8.5 / 10

Kirk got lost somewhere in Texas and hasn't called back yet. He's just having way too much fun.

Kirk got lost somewhere in Texas and hasn’t called back yet. He’s just having way too much fun.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire, Cinema Clock