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Lonely Terrain

Loss and desperation in Wind River and Good Time




WIND RIVER. Taylor Sheridan would be most recognizable to many for his arc as Deputy Chief David Hale on the first couple of seasons of the TV series Sons of Anarchy. While he's been plying his trade as a working actor for over two decades, he's also been at the desk, grinding it out against the blank pages. In recent years, those efforts have borne beautiful, bitter fruit: He wrote the screenplays for Sicario (2015) — which I loved — as well as Hell or High Water (2016), one of the most beautifully photographed pictures in recent years, and a movie I'm surprised didn't find a wider audience. Wind River finds him directing his own script and adding to a growing body of work unified by themes of loss, revenge and disempowerment in the contemporary American West. (He also directed a horror thing called Vile in 2011, which I have not seen and suspect stands apart from his written work.)

These movies, violent and mournful as they are, don't suit all tastes. But they all show the hand of a real writer at work, an individual whose "something to say" is strong enough that it can be heard over and through the added voices of different directors. Hollywood cinema is hardly a writer's medium, so this is no small feat. And Wind River evinces a confidence and aptitude with the camera and actors equal to the strength of his story construction.

Cory Lambert (Jeremy Renner) is a hunter employed by the Department of Fish and Wildlife to kill predators threatening livestock in rural Wyoming. In winter, while tracking a family of mountain lions that took a steer on the property of his estranged wife's parents (on the Wind River Indian Reservation), he discovers the body of a young woman, barefoot and bloodied, miles from anywhere. He recognizes her as a family friend named Natalie (Kelsey Asbille), a connection that achieves deeper, sadder resonance as the story progresses. Cory notifies the chief of tribal police, Ben (Graham Greene), who in turn notifies the FBI. In a pointed gesture, the Bureau dispatches a single field agent, Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen), based in Las Vegas, who happens to be attending training nearby. She arrives unprepared for the weather, unfamiliar with Wyoming, let alone the reservation, and perhaps underequipped to conduct a murder investigation. She rises to the occasion, though, enlisting Cory's help and earning Ben's grudging respect. As they work together to get at the gruesome, heart-breaking truth of the crime, Jane comes to better understand Cory and the devastating personal connection he has to Natalie's death.

Wind River, snowbound and sadly lyrical, speaks a visual language that echoes the dark progression of its script. It doesn't try too hard with camera moves or bold edits, rather using the camera to simply advance the story, albeit in a handsome, considered way. And when violence inevitably erupts, Sheridan handles it skillfully and without embellishment, grounding it in the realism and desolation of its setting. The cast is uniformly excellent, with Renner in particular reinforcing his ability to conjure loss with a look. The movie also highlights, through the lens of a murder mystery, an aspect of the ongoing disenfranchisement of Native peoples in the United States, something both important and rare in popular media. R. 107m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK, MINOR.

GOOD TIME also has within it themes of loss and lack of agency, and moments of great violence and sadness, but could hardly be more different from Wind River. Directed by Josh and Benny Safdie from a screenplay by Ronald Bronstein and Josh Safdie, it wastes no time getting down to street level in contemporary New York City, and has the audience spend a tense, antic, seemingly never-ending night there. Side note: The same group previously made Heaven Knows What (2014), a heroin drama that I missed the first time around, unfairly assuming it would be derivative and gratuitous, and Daddy Long Legs (2009) about which I know almost nothing. I'm thinking now that both deserve a look.

The opening, after a dread-inducing aerial zoom into a high rise embedded in the grimy synth score, finds Nick Nikas (Benny Safdie), a developmentally delayed adult, struggling with some sort of mandated therapy session. His brother Connie (Robert Pattinson) bursts in, takes Nick by the hand and spirits him out of the building. Shortly thereafter, the brothers rob a bank, a project that not unexpectedly blows up in their faces. Nick ends up in custody after inadvertently running through a window, then hospitalized after unwittingly raising the ire of his fellow inmates. Connie is hard-pressed to pay his bail with dye-soaked bills from an ill-conceived heist, and so spends a frenzied night trying to drum up $10,000. What follows is a strangely beautiful, sometimes funny, sometimes brutal series of increasingly improbable events that lead one to wonder whether Connie is motivated purely by love for his brother, or also by a compulsion to construct intractable situations against which to pit himself.

I may have unfairly expected Good Time to adhere to the shaky-camera, "look how shocking" school of indie cinema — such is certainly not the case. The Safdies maintain assiduous control over their camera (they also have a hand in the sound design and editing), creating a continuous and compelling aesthetic, while also leaving room for the cast — A-list veterans and non-actors alike — to thrive onscreen. The movie, as a result, is a troubling and gorgeous surprise, a gritty little gem that deserves to be watched, re-watched and studied. R. 100m. BROADWAY.

— John J. Bennett

For showtimes, see the Journal's listings at or call: Broadway Cinema 443-3456; Fortuna Theatre 725-2121; Mill Creek Cinema 839-3456; Minor Theatre 822-3456; Richards' Goat Miniplex 630-5000.


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THE GIRL WITHOUT HANDS. German animated fairy tale about a girl who escapes the devil at the cost of her hands. PG13. 100m. MINIPLEX.

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THE DARK TOWER. In this skimming adaptation of a Stephen King novel about a battle for the universe, Idris Elba's glowering intensity and quiet grief almost carry the dull exposition. And Matthew McConaughey, as a runway strutting villain, is likely having a better time than the audience. PG13. 95m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.

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THE GLASS CASTLE. A big-hearted, well-acted, unpretentious examination of family life in hard times based on Jeannete Walls' memoir. With strong performances by Brie Larson and Woody Harrelson. PG13. 127m. BROADWAY.

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— Jennifer Fumiko Cahill

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