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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

 

Atomic Blonde

An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis

Atomic Blonde

Two odd but interesting things have happened in an otherwise grim summer for movies. Wonder Woman, the summer’s biggest hit, gave women the comic book version of the hero they have wanted for so long. And now Atomic Blonde has given them their own action hero. Together, they are an announcement that women have arrived.

Charlize Theron doesn’t kid around. Her action figure, Lorraine Broughton, uses every part of her body to kill enemies and when that’s not quite enough she uses whatever happens to be at hand. In grand collusion with director David Leitch, she levels the field.

Theron has trained herself to such a state of fitness and strength that the movie becomes a flaming announcement that women in movies can now say, “Don’t mess with me!” They no longer have to express rage just by being mean. The only problem here is that the action is so overwhelming it’s hard to track the plot. But does that matter? No.

It is 1989. Lorraine Broughton is an MI6 agent with a new assignment: head for Berlin and recover a list of secrets hidden in a wrist watch that has been stolen. The plot, along with its various alliances, is secondary to the wallop of the sight of Lorraine dispatching every man who tries to kill her.

Three characters stand out. James McAvoy as her primary problem, Eddie Marson as a bundle of brilliance who she must protect because he has memorized the list, and Sofia Boutella, another spy, who joins Lorraine in a red hot sexual encounter that plays out in prolonged detail. Through Lorraine, Charlize Theron is eyeing the decades of female roles screened by men and with a big smile is saying “Take this, you guys.”

The bulk of the film unfolds in absolutely brutal physical violence. What is it then that lifts it to high style? It’s Lorraine who we first see bruised and battered before learning why. All during the why of it, we have the abiding pleasure of watching her stride in perfect stern grace through the city in a different outfit for every scene.

Though brutalized by fists and weapons, short minutes later she is striding across Berlin in clothes of superb simplicity – no adornments. Almost always in stark black and white, then suddenly a bright red coat – all covering perfect posture atop bright red heels that become, when required , weapons. She is looking ahead as if she weren’t in full time danger. And then in moments she will be plummeting down a staircase, hit from behind by an enemy.

In two terrific symbolic performances this year, Wonder Woman’s Gal Gadot gave us a fighter for moral rectitude and Charlize Theron shows us a battler against all odds. In grand exaggeration, they have handed women the recognition they want as they fight to transcend the supporting role that has been their lot for centuries. Comic book symbols? You bet. Earned, deserved, and delivered in style.

Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Film Title : Atomic Blonde
Word Count : 502
Running time : 1:55
Rating : R
Date : 6 August 2017