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Posts Tagged ‘Taylor Sheridan’

Isabela Moner, Benecio Del Toro

“SICARIO: DAY OF THE SOLDADO” My rating: B- 

102 minutes | MPAA rating: R

“Sicario” was one of 2015’s best films, a (mostly) South of the Border crime drama which posited that the war on drugs is not only unwinnable but destined to make the U.S. as complicit in evil as the cartels.

Also, it starred Emily Blunt (always a welcome thing) as an F.B.I. agent who discovers the hard way that in this conflict there are no good guys.

The Blunt-less “Sicario: Day of the Soldado” is a step down from the original (this was pretty much inevitable); nevertheless it works reasonably well as a high-tension crime thriller.

Scripted once again by Taylor Sheridan (“Wind River,” “Hell or High Water”) and directed this time around by Stefano Solima (the Italian TV crime drama “Gomorrah”), this entry reunites Josh Brolin and Benicio Del Toro as, respectively, CIA operative Matt Graver and his right-hand man, former cartel hitman Alejandro.

This time we don’t have to discover through a principled heroine that our government is willing to do all sorts of unpalatable things to secure our safety. Truth is, just about every character in the film is outright evil or seriously compromised.

Early on, Islamic terrorists blow up a big box store in Kansas City; the feds determine that the suicide bombers entered the U.S. as illegal immigrants crossing the Rio Grande, guided by underlings of the Reyes drug cartel.

Graver and Alejandro are assigned to start a war among the various cartels through a series of assassinations. They also set in motion a plan to kidnap Isabel Reyes (Isabela Moner), the teen daughter of the Reyes cartel’s leader.

Of course this skullduggery is off the books; the government bigwigs who order the mission (Catherine Keener, Matthew Modine) are all about deniability and any member of the team is expendable if it means keeping a lid on things.

(more…)

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Jeremy Renner, Gil Birmingham

“WIND RIVER” My rating: B

*113 minutes | MPAA rating: R

With his screenplays for “Sicario” and “Hell or High Water” Taylor Sheridan joined the ranks of our best storytellers of the contemporary American West.

He cements that reputation — though not without a couple of minor missteps — by writing and directing “Wind River.”

Set on the sprawling Wind River Indian Reservation in mountainous central Wyoming, this snowbound mystery is triggered by the death of an 18-year-old Arapaho girl. Apparently she ran for several miles barefoot through a blizzard before succumbing to sub-zero temperatures. But what — or who — was she running from?

Her body is discovered by Cory Lambert (Jeremy Renner), a hunter for the wildlife service whose job is to eliminate wolves, cougars and other predators dining on domestic livestock. Soon he’ll be tracking down two-legged predators.

On one level “Wind River” is a buddy movie pairing the woods-smart Cory with Florida-reared Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen), an FBI agent dispatched to investigate what appears to be a murder on tribal land. He knows every snowfield and ravine within hundreds of square miles; she shows up without so much as a pair of long johns.

But as seems always to be the case with a Sheridan film, just as important as the mystery is the milieu in which it’s set.

In this case it’s a world of natural beauty and aching poverty, dying traditions and doped-up  youth. Here white assumptions collide with Native American realities. Resentments and prejudices can surface at any time.

Renner’s Cory is the perfect guide through these conflicting cultures. Born nearby and as comfortable in a cowboy hat as a fur-lined parka, he’s divorced from an Arapaho woman with whom he has a young son. In short, he’s a man with one foot planted in the white world and the other in Indian country.

Sheridan’s screenplay provides plenty of thumbnail portraits of colorful characters. (more…)

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Chris Pine, Ben Foster

Chris Pine, Ben Foster

“HELL OR HIGH WATER” My rating: A- 

102 minutes | MPAA rating: R

“Hell or High Water” is about two brothers on a crime spree. But David Mackenzie’s film has a lot more on its mind than mere suspense and thrills.

Imagine the Coen Brothers’ “No Country for Old Men” filtered through the sensibilities of a Bruce Springsteen ballad about sibling tensions and economic alienation, enacted by players who in some instances are giving their best perfs ever, and set against a bleak West Texas landscape so carefully rendered you may find yourself trying to spit out the dust.

And although it was filmed a year ago, it  damn near serves as an ethnological study of Trump voters.

The film begins with a bank heist.  Brothers Toby (Chris Pine) and Tanner (Ben Foster) pull on ski masks and barge into a branch of the Texas Midlands Bank in an oil spot of a rundown town. Brother Tanner is clearly enjoying his power over the employees and customers — a bit too much, actually. He has to be admonished by his sibling after pistol whipping a slow-moving bank employee.

Because Ben Foster has so often played eye-rolling loonies, we assume that his ex-con Tanner is the criminal mastermind behind the unfolding series of bank robberies. Actually it’s the low-keyed Toby who came up with the plan to steal  money from the same bank threatening to foreclose on the family’s run-down ranch.

Estranged from his wife and two teenage sons and way behind on his alimony, Toby hopes to pay off the mortgage with the bank’s own money. At least he’ll be able to leave the family spread to his boys. Heck, there may even be black gold under it.

The brothers have a system, hitting different branches at off hours, then burying the getaway cars out on the back 40. They launder the stolen cash by gambling at an Indian casino up in Oklahoma.

But it’s a given that at some point the hair-trigger Tanner will deviate from the plan and throw the entire enterprise into jeopardy.

Because there’s a relentless lawman on their trail. Jeff Bridges is Marcus, a crusty old Texas Ranger facing an uneasy retirement. Marcus has been catching crooks for so long that he thinks like them; he’s just waiting for one little screwup.

In the meantime he passes the time making politically incorrect observations about the heritage of his long-suffering half-Commanche partner (Gil Birmingham).

That’s the plot.  But the screenplay by Taylor Sheridan (who most recently gave us the first-rate drug war saga “Sicario”) is noteworthy for all the other stuff going on just below the surface. (more…)

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