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No Reservations–Wind River Review

My review for the Eagle

There is no comprehensive reporting system for the number of missing and murdered Native American women and girls in the United States–the only category of missing persons without one. Many reports, however, estimate that Native women are murdered at more than 10 times the national average.

“Wind River,” although fictional, portrays this bleak reality with a steely resolve. Screenwriter and director Taylor Sheridan (“Sicario” and “Hell and High Water”) paints a picture of life on a reservation in muted, grim tones. The film brings to vivid life how drugs have ravaged the community, how violence so often punctures the fabric of daily existence, how Native culture has been obliterated and how the reservation is a place both forgotten and stigmatized.

Jeremy Renner plays Cory Lambert, a federal wildlife officer who hunts predatory animals at the Wind River Indian Reservation in Wyoming. While searching for a mountain lion that has been attacking livestock, he finds the raped and beaten body of a young Native woman in the snow. The tracks point to a seeming impossibility–that she had been running barefoot through the snow for miles. Natalie (Kelsey Asbille), the best friend of Cory’s daughter, had died three years earlier under similar circumstances.

Rookie FBI agent Jane Banner ( Elizabeth Olsen) flies in from Vegas, where she is stationed, to investigate the crime. The Tribal Police chief, who has come to accept law enforcement’s utter lack of concern for his people, jokingly remarks, “see what they send us,” when she arrives clad in summery attire in the midst of a blizzard. But Jane is different. The absolute brutality and violence women are subjected to at Wind River shakes her to her core. Olsen makes palpable the feeling of a woman contending with violence against women─as something that feels intensely and viscerally personal.

Jane asks Cory to help her in the investigation. That dynamic is also really interesting since Jane lacks the typical authority figure hubris. Witnessing the dynamics in a community that has received no help from “the government,” she recognizes that Cory can not only “help her hunt a predator” but that he can also earn the trust of the community, which has no reason to trust anyone outside of it.

“Wind River” is a so much more than a taut murder mystery. Free of polemics, Sheridan’s director hand turns the lens on how elusive “justice” can be for the Native American community, on multiple levels. Finding the perpetrator of this specific crime can’t offer the satisfaction traditional murder mystery films offer in catching the bad guy, because most other victims never get the dignity of having someone care to find the perpetrators.

“Wind River” will shake you to your core, but it is an important film to see.

Grade: A

Liberal Arts Movie Review

My Review of Liberal Arts
Josh Radnor‘s debut film Happythankyoumoreplease flipped the hipster/indie rom-com formula on its head in the most endearing of ways. Liberal Arts, his sophomore effort as writer-director-stars, stumbles in ways his debut did not, occasionally treading too close to contrived territory but ultimately delivering an enjoyable film.
Radnor plays Jesse, a 35-year-old college admissions counselor in New York, who gets a call from his favorite college professor, Peter Hoberg (Richard Jenkins), asking if he’ll come back to campus and speak at the professor’s retirement party. And so begins the nostalgic trip that ultimately turns out to be a progression through a regression, if you follow.

On this jaunt, he meets Zibby (Elizabeth Olsen), a sophomore with whom he forms an unlikely connection once she gives him a mix CD of classical music from a survey class she took that “changed her life” by her own admission (groan). Before you roll your eyes at the predictability of it, this sentiment is at the core of the bookishness bend of Liberal Arts. Radnor does an amazing job of portraying the wide-eyed intellectual revelry that still remains the best part about college. As Jesse tells Dean (John Magaro), a student less enthusiastic about the college life than him, “it’s the only time you get to do this. Sit around, read books all day, have great conversations about ideas. People out in the world… they are not really doing that.”
The romance between Jesse and Zibby blossoms through the old-fashioned medium of writing letters to each other (in line with Jesse’s love affair with the British Romantics) and make for some light, mirthful moments. As it develops, however, the coming-of-age issues bring about a pretty strong element of discomfort, if not downright cringe-inducing dialogue, when Zibby wants to take their relationship into intimate territory. Oddly enough, once the absurdity of falling for a girl 16 years his junior dawns on Jesse, does he realize Zibby may not be the only one with some growing up to do and that he needs to get back to adulthood.
The comedic elements in Liberal Arts are to be found in some interesting places–such as Zac Efron’s turn as a tree-hugging hippie guru who spouts aphorisms like “There is no reason to be afraid because everything is OK.” Jesse’s friendship with Dean, the depressed student writer he meets at the college, also allows Radnor to hash out the theme of Liberal Arts: as great as college is, growing up is not all that bad either. Their interaction yields some of the more clever lines from the film: “I am taking you off post-modernists. There are these vampire books. They will empty your mind completely.”
Jesse’s line about “stumbling into something like contentment” rings especially true of adulthood. Maybe not all it’s cracked up to be, but it’s necessarily cause for nostalgia’ing one’s college years as the only good time in one’s life. Radnor’s dialogue comes off fairly ham-handed at times, but the message is definitely a positive one.

 If one can get past the romantic relationship [funny, since this is supposedly a rom-com] which is too cringe-inducing at times, the supporting roles are compelling and amusing in a droll sort of way. Radnor has a knack for imbuing his films with enough nerdishness to appeal to the English majors in all of us and as such, his films are well…heart-warming while avoiding maudlin territory for the most part, even if he does tread dangerously close to it occasionally.