What we’re watching this week

Wind River

Writer Taylor Sheridan of Sicario and Hell or High Water fame, and here directing one of his own scripts, proves without doubt he’s the absolute master of moral ambiguity. This time he drops the didactic politics and simply breaks our hearts in a gripping but mediative crime thriller wonderfully aided by the haunting music of Nick Cave and Warren Ellis. It stars Jeremy Renner as Corey Lambert, a professional tracker and hunter in the frigid wild backcountry of Wyoming, whose usual work is protecting livestock. After he discovers the body of a dead young Native American girl on federal-run reservation land, the FBI become involved – just one hopelessly under-prepared female agent (Elizabeth Olsen). She’s smart enough to enlist Corey’s help, and as a detective procedural, what follows is enthralling and utterly compelling – complete with some well crafted action scenes with bullets thudding into the snow like thunderbolts. But where Sheridan is so masterful is in the way he pulls us into this harsh unforgiving high country and the lives of those who live on it. That comes thanks to some wonderful supporting performances and truly magnificent cinematography. Slowly we learn of Corey’s own tragic connection with the murdered girl and feel the impoverished despair of the land’s original people. Rich in metaphor, full of intensity and depth, this could easily be the best film to get a general release this year. It was my second favourite at the Sydney Film Festival. And since my top one doesn’t seem to be on anyone’s schedule, it probably will be. MA15+ from Aug 10 (previews – Aug 4 – 6) ★★★★1/2

The Wall

Opening so soon after one of the greatest wartime films ever made (Dunkirk), Doug Liman’s taut and economical three-hander could easily pass through our cinemas largely unnoticed. Unfortunate timing for sure (nothing deserves to go up against Christopher Nolan’s masterpiece), but then again, if multiplex box-office returns had mattered to those who made The Wall, they would never have allowed that  “difficult” ending. Both films achieve a lot in short running times (a blisteringly fast 82 minutes in this case), and at least in its premise, The Wall sounds promising. Set in 2007 during the wrap-up of the Iraqi war, two American soldiers guarding an oil pipeline are ambushed and wounded, and then one is pinned down and trapped behind an unsteady rock wall. The rival Iraqi sniper then taunts the survivor (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) via a captured US radio. We only ever hear his voice (Laith Nakli), and he’s an educated ex-teacher, apparently, taken to quoting Shakespeare and (inexplicitly) Edgar Allen Poe. The tense action is well staged and keeps us in a cold sweat throughout, but the pair’s verbal fisticuffs seem pointless, always hinting at some deeper message about the US-Iraqi conflict, but not delivering. “We are not so different, you and I,” claims the Iraqi… Really, is that all there is to say about that hugely problematic war? MA15+ from Aug 10. ★★1/2

Reviews – Russell Edwards