Wind River

An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis

Wind River

Of Wind River, the studio says “An FBI agent teams with a town’s veteran game tracker to investigate a murder that occurred on a Native American reservation.” That description is a one sentence understatement of a movie that may well be one of the best of this year.

Anyone who visits an active Indian reservation in the west or the main street of a town like Gallup, New Mexico, carries away a permanent brain imprint of what we did to the Indians by taking their land. Alcohol, sadness, and emptiness are at every turn.

Taylor Sheridan, who wrote, directed and set the story in Wyoming, shows the results of the past without sermonizing. For an hour or so he shows us the majestic beauty of snow covered mountains, woods, and flatland until we begin to wonder whether anyone could live there. Then, as he introduces the characters, we begin to understand the problems of weather and isolation on the people who do.

Cory Lambert (Jeremy Renner) is a tracker for the wildlife department. We watch him roar through the wilderness at top speed on his snowmobile (to avoid becoming stuck) in search of predatory animals who kill the smaller ones who belong there. In the silence, we watch him follow patterns and tracks of both humans and animals on land he knows so well.

Suddenly Cory comes on the dead body of Natalie (Kelsey Abile), the 18 year old daughter of his Indian friend Ben (Gil Birmingham). He offers emotional support to Ben with understanding born of losing his own daughter to the culture of emptiness some years before.

The FBI is summoned and arrives in the unexpected form of Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen), a new young agent from Las Vegas who is smart though inexperienced and looks to Cory for advice on how to find the killer. That’s it for the story.

At that point we are feeling quiet appreciation for director Taylor Sheridan’s subtle gift to us of the nature of physical isolation and the danger of the country. He then hits us with a prolonged explosion of violence. The beauty has turned to desolation; blood spreads on white snow; hatred and anger explode in an overwhelming violence of assault, rape, and battery. Thirteen people die. How did this brutality root itself in all this beauty? Suddenly, we understand this is why Sheridan spent the first hour showing us the erosive effect of isolation on people. Does isolation always breed violence?

My graphic description here is intended for people who avoid brutal violence in movies. So warned, it is rare to see a director’s vision delivered so powerfully despite one raw piece of overacting late in the film. Jeremy Renner is superb in his quietness; Elizabeth Olsen is excellent as the smart but inexperienced FBI agent; Gil Birmingham is powerful as the grieving father. You will best remember Taylor Sheridan who is a man unafraid of unleashing unvarnished historical truth.

Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Film Title : Wind River
Word Count : 502
Running time : 1:47
Rating : R
Date : August 27, 2017



An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis


Have you discovered, as I have, that most young people have never heard of Dunkirk? Writer/director/producer Christopher Nolan has recreated it in an inspired movie that runs just one hour, forty-six minutes, exactly the right length for a required high school history class. Nolan’s film is a tribute to the men who died and to those who rallied to rescue the allied forces trapped on the beaches of Dunkirk in 1940. It couldn’t be a better lesson that war can no longer be a solution for settling disagreements.

Christopher Nolan filmed Dunkirk in three alternating sections on the beach, on the water, and in the air, all of it set against a relentless score of pure tension by Hans Zimmer. They have turned the volume high on the explosions, plane crashes, and bombs blowing ships and men to bits. Far louder than a normal soundtrack, it stuns the audience with the sounds of war. This is not the background noise of an ordinary war movie. It is the relentless noise of brutal death, and Nolan leaves us caught in tension through the whole battle. That’s the way it was.

This is history brought to gruesome life at a time when the outcome of the war was thoroughly in doubt after the fall of France. Western Europe was broken. The allied forces went into full retreat ending in unimaginable death and injury as they came to the beach and the water where there was no safety. The few naval ships became targets for Nazi planes that were being shot down by British Spitfires. Soldiers on foot were trapped and dying in the open, no place to hide.

The reason it is hard to salute specific actors is that there is very little dialogue here. Every young man is enveloped in noise and fear and all of them are surrounded by dying, broken soldiers. Suddenly the theater, rocked by an hour of noise, sees the screen fill with the small boats that came from everywhere to save 330,000 men. The audible gratitude throughout the audience is a tribute to the reality of the battle created by Christopher Nolan.

A special salute is due Mark Rylance who, as a rescuer with a small boat, creates a character driven to stay in the danger by a deep set of personal values, a stand in, as it were, for all the civilians who rallied in their small boats. There are no false notes among others in the cast, just silent men knowing many of them will die. The beach behind them will soon be full of Nazi soldiers. The water ahead, the sky above, all full of German soldiers, sailors, and pilots determined to slaughter them as they wade into the open sea.

War movies have never conveyed the reality of the sound of war and death. That is what Christopher Nolan has done to audiences with this movie. No one who sees it will forget the terrible sounds of inevitability.

Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Film Title Dunkirk
Word Count : 501
Running time : 1:46
Rating : PG-13
Date : July 23, 2017