“Wind River”

By the time Taylor Sheridan’s (writer of Sicario and Hell or High Water) Wind River concluded with an informative caption, I was devastated. Sheridan writes and directs a brutal modern-day Western about a subject that needs our attention.

US Fish and Wildlife Service agent Cory Lambert (Jeremy Renner) finds a murdered teenager in the Wind River Indian Reservation. Rookie FBI agent Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen) is assigned the case and is unprepared for the harsh weather and violence that await. With Lambert’s help, Banner hunts for the killer. Lambert, however, has his own reasons for taking the case.

Wind River has taken the title of 2017’s feel-bad movie (who would have thought Detroit would be dethroned?). I haven’t seen any other film this year that’s either as provocative or visceral as Wind River. Sheridan is on a role with the cynical and grim Westerns.

While Sicario was nihilistic about the war on drugs and Hell or High Water about banks, Wind River isn’t nihilistic. It’s brutally honest about missing Native American women and how there are no statistics. No one knows how many are missing; this is a fact that floored me.

MILD SPOILERS AHEAD!!!

Lambert takes the case as a form of catharsis. His daughter has been missing (and possibly dead) for years and he aids Banner to help exercise his aggression. Lambert doesn’t hold back his rage during the climax, resulting in some shockingly violent moments. Renner delivers a taut performance as Lambert; he’s a likable-yet-troubled cowboy overwhelmed by pain. With one beautifully written monologue about grief, Renner is a guaranteed Best Actor nominee.

Olsen plays Banner with a certain level of innocence. She isn’t afraid to draw her weapon or take charge of the situation, but it’s obvious that this is her first homicide case. This is emphasized in the final act when she breaks down over the case’s grisly outcome.

Wind River is Sheridan’s sophomore directorial effort. While his aesthetics are slightly uneven (using voiceover narration in the prologue and title cards in the epilogue), he is one to keep an eye out for. His poetic screenwriting, dark commentary, and use of violence make him a standout auteur.

Grade: A

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“Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation”

Tom Cruise is a maniac. Does he have a death wish when he swims under water for several minutes with no oxygen tank? Is he trying to gain attention by hanging on the side of a flying cargo plane? All I know is I respect the crap out of him for his commitment to his work; especially in the “Mission: Impossible” movies.

“Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation” is the fifth installment in the “M:I” franchise and has Cruise returning as Ethan Hunt, alongside Jeremy Renner’s Brandt, Simon Pegg’s Benji, and Ving Rhames’s Luther. The plot is fairly similar to the first and fourth installments since Hunt and his team are evading officials while tracking down a terrorist organization known as The Syndicate.

I’m a big fan of the “Mission: Impossible” franchise and grew up watching these movies. I watched “Mission: Impossible” (1996) several times when I was a kid, “Mission: Impossible 2” (2000) is a stupid-yet-enjoyable sequel, “Mission: Impossible III” (2006) is the best revenge spy thriller since “License to Kill” (1989), and “Ghost Protocol” (2011) is a brilliant spectacle piece that had audiences taking Tom Cruise seriously again. Cruise once again proves in “Rogue Nation” why he’s one of the best action stars of all time.

Cruise keeps us on the edge of our seats between his aerobics, stunt driving, fight sequences, and his motorcycle chase. We all know about that now iconic plane stunt from the trailers, but the best part is, that’s not even the BEST action sequence! I won’t tell you what is because it’s too hard to choose!

The film is also suspenseful without action sequences and at times feels like the first “M:I” movie as characters betray each other, and bypass high-tech security systems. Remember that scene in this year’s spy tribute “Kingsman” where Colin Firth and Samuel L Jackson discuss spy movies? Where Firth says the old spy movies had sillier far-fetched plots while the newer ones are more serious? “Rogue Nation” is equally measured in silliness and intensity.

We also get dramatic scene-stealing work from Simon Pegg, Rebecca Ferguson is the strongest female character we’ve gotten in this series as a femme-fatale rogue operative, and Sean Harris (one of the dummies who gets killed in the cave scene in “Prometheus” (2012)) plays a subtle and menacing villain.

I recommend everyone should see “Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation” if they like action-packed sequels that nearly outdo their predecessors.

Grade: A