(3.5 / 5)
After penning the Sicario, set in the sun-bleached badland of Juarez, Mexico, and Hell or High Water, which plays out in scrubby, unforgiving West Texas, Taylor Sheridan heads north with Wind River.
His directorial follow-up to 2011’s Saw-alike Vile, Wind River takes place amidst the seemingly endless snowy plains and forested peaks of the Wind River Indian Reservation in Wyoming; a frozen waste that never seems to get the memo about arrival of summer.
Cory Lambert (Jeremy Renner) is an agent of the U.S. Fish And Wildlife Service with ties to the community – his ex-wife Wilma (Julia Jones) is a native – which makes him one of the few outsiders welcome; let alone knowing the territory like the back of his hand. As such, when he comes across the body of a teenage girl, Natalie Hanson (Kelsey Chow), barefoot and frozen, while out hunting lions, proficient FBI Agent Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen) is eager for his assistance.
Wind River is a place where breathing too hard can turn your lungs to blood and ice; a place that either hardens or breaks you. As Cory puts it, with a shrug, you either survive or your surrender.
Natalie’s father, Martin (Gil Birmingham), seems brusque, detached even, upon hearing the news. That is till he opens the door and finds himself facing Cory. Cory, too, is haunted by the mystery of his own daughter’s death. The quiet ache of it defines him as much as the Stetson he wears and rifle he carries. The shared empathy of their losses robs Martin of his shield of stoicism and dissolves him into howling.
Despite its emotional through-line, this portrait of the modern frontier lacks the rough, innate power of Sheridan’s two most recent works. Influences feed in from the likes of Silence of the Lambs, but Sheridan lacks the experience to make the best of his own writing. It makes up for it, though, with a grace and ethereal beauty; aided by Nick Cave & Warren Ellis’ desolate, whispering score, and Ben Richardson’s cinematography, clear and crisp as a mountain stream.
Wind River might not blow you away in cinematic terms – it doesn’t strive for that – but don’t let that stop it sweeping you along to the cinema.
(3.5 / 5)
mother!, Darren Aronofsky’s latest, belabours itself straight through a conceptual caesarean.
The breach occurs whenever you happen to figure out the exact forces at play.
Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem star as a couple, known only as Mother and Him1, whose place of residence could be straight of Ideal Homes. Think Amityville with an interior designer. Lawrence is the placid homemaker – literally so – dressed always in white. Bardem is the distracted writer, clad in black, who’s struggling with his second novel.
One evening, a stranger arrives on their doorstep, Man, who Bardem quickly invites to stay; much to Lawrence’s perplexity. Who is this person they’ve allowed into their home? It’s a question she finds herself asking repeatedly as, first, Harris’ wife, Woman, arrives and takes residence alongside her husband.
The set-up, as advertised, seems primed for a classic psychological thriller, as Lawrence finds herself sidelined in her own home; slowly losing control of her obsessively-crafted environment, with which she has a strange symbiotic relationship. Harris, ever more toothy and crinkly, professes to Bardem how grateful he is to be allowed to stay, but brushes off Lawrence’s concerns about smoking indoors. The enduringly sophisticated Pfeiffer, meanwhile, assumes an unnerving air of over-familiarity – “Do you really love your husband?” “Why don’t you want kids?” – that tips over into cool judgement.
There’s talk, too, of the house having previously destroyed in a fire – indeed, mother! opens with fire – and the fact of Bardem’s prize possession: a mysterious crystal recovered from the wreckage. It’s hard to get too invested, though, when you know there’s something more to it than just a couple of similar house guests.2
All of this falls by the wayside, though,3 once you figure out the film’s larger purpose. It’s something that’s impossible to put in the trailers or even to explain without resorting to a Dummy’s Guide. What seems to be one type of film from Aronofsky’s playbook turns out to be a variation on another: a neat portrait of deepening social anxiety and a couple in unequal love turns out instead to be a tapestry depicting the chaos inherent to the act of creation and sharing that creation with the world.4
Suffice to say, the film then becomes a hugely ambitious and sadly self-limiting allegory. The meta-text of what it’s about devalues the film itself; seeping through the carefully layered atmosphere like the blood stain that’s rotting through the floorboards.6 but naïve about the chaos that his talent invites into their lives. As such, when the forces of order arrive all too briefly to reign in the executions and concentration camps7, it can’t help but feel a bit Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Lawrence is retiring and can’t understand why her clear adoration for her husband isn’t enough for him. As a protagonist, though, Lawrence hasn’t been required to scream or otherwise be overwhelmed so much since House at the End of the Street back in 2012. mother! is clever in its conception, but not as rewarding in it as you might hope8 but not as rewarding as you might hope; missing the grace-notes that might have elevated it beyond a master filmmaker’s self-indulgence.
I admired the construction – Craig Henighan’s sound design truly does breathe life into the house – but to what apocalyptic end?
- For the sake of clarity, I’ll refer to each character by the actor’s name.
- My first reading was that all of this was a Shutter Island-style scenario designed to force Lawrence to confront some subsumed trauma which she has both literally and figuratively attempted to paint over.
- Like, for instance, the yellow powder Lawrence makes into a tonic; seemingly to help her deal with mind-quakes.
- Just as there’s an interpretation of Interstellar that suggests it’s an expression of Christopher Nolan’s guilt over not being around while his kids are growing up – McConaughey’s character has to save the world; Nolan’s gotta make films – there’s a similar reading of mother! that suggests it’s essentially Aronofsky apologising to his female partner – currently Jennifer Lawrence – for his selfish artistic impulses.
- Unlike in, say, War For The Planet Of The Apes, the film of which this most reminded me, in mother! this re-contextualisation feels less epic than limiting.p/note] Only the environmentalist message remains anything close to sub-textual, but in a way that’s less impactful than, say, well, Noah. mother! initially attempts to hide its magnitude, but in a way that feels ultimately self-defeating.
Bardem’s Him is charming, gracious, and distinctly masculine,5Go figure.
- Yes, the allegory goes that far.
- You can even intellectualize *exactly* why the title is spelt as it is, which is, in the context of the film, a spoiler.