Odd cou­ples blow hot and cold

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Film Reviews -

At the end of Wind River, a con­tem­po­rary thriller set in the bleak snowy wilder­ness of Wy­oming, a ti­tle in­forms the viewer of the num­ber of Na­tive Amer­i­cans who go miss­ing, and re­main un­re­ported, ev­ery year. Who would have thought this sort of scan­dal per­sisted to this day? In any event, the theme makes a good sub­ject for the first fea­ture di­rected by Tay­lor Sheri­dan, pre­vi­ously known for his ex­cel­lent screen­plays for two re­cent thrillers, Si­cario and Hell or High Wa­ter.

As the film be­gins, a young Na­tive Amer­i­can woman is flee­ing at night, bare­foot, across the snow. We soon dis­cover she is 18-year-old Natalie (Kelsey As­bille), when Cory Lam­bert (Jeremy Ren­ner), a wildlife of­fi­cer, stum­bles on her frozen corpse while hunt­ing a moun­tain lion that’s been killing live­stock. A post-mortem re­veals the girl was raped and that she died when her lungs burst af­ter in­hal­ing snow. Although she wasn’t mur­dered in the lit­eral sense, it’s clear she was flee­ing from some­one who had raped her, and the FBI is called in.

FBI agent Jane Ban­ner (El­iz­a­beth Olsen) flies in from Las Ve­gas and is com­pletely un­used to the bit­terly cold con­di­tions she en­coun­ters in Wy­oming in win­ter. She seeks the help of Cory as her guide be­cause he knows the area well. There’s an­other con­nec­tion: his daugh­ter, who was a friend of the dead girl, had died three years ear­lier and her loss was a con­tribut­ing fac­tor in the break-up of his mar­riage.

Sheri­dan cre­ates in­ter­est­ing char­ac­ters, and both the dam­aged, driven Cory and the am­bi­tious but in­ex­pe­ri­enced Jane are strong pro­tag­o­nists as the odd cou­ple at the cen­tre of the in­ves­ti­ga­tion. That said, the plot­ting is less dense in this film than it was in his pre­vi­ous screen­plays.

In this re­mote part of Amer­ica, where the men who work in the min­ing in­dus­try are bored to tears and far from home, there’s lit­tle doubt where the cause of Natalie’s death lies and there’s lit­tle in the way of red her­rings along the way. It’s all very straight­for­ward but that, in a way, works in its favour. We don’t have to spend too much time won­der­ing how and why Natalie died (though we even­tu­ally see this in a painful flash­back). In­stead we are in­tro­duced to a hand- Wind River, Spain, ful of lonely, alien­ated char­ac­ters, cops, lo­cals and fly-in minework­ers.

Sheri­dan sug­gests it’s so hard to live in a place as iso­lated as this, es­pe­cially dur­ing the long win­ter months, that it’s re­ally not sur­pris­ing peo­ple go stir-crazy. This in­cludes the gang of guys who are friends of the dead girl’s brother and who are ini­tially sus­pected.

The set-up in which an out­side in­ves­ti­ga­tor is sent to an in­hos­pitable lo­ca­tion to solve a mur­der isn’t new (think of Nor­we­gian film In­som­nia, and its Amer­i­can re­make of the same name, made by Christo­pher Nolan in 2002 with Al Pa­cino as the out­sider and Hi­lary Swank as the lo­cal), but Sheri­dan brings a wel­come fresh­ness to the con­cept. He stages a cou­ple of shootouts su­perbly with­out lin­ger­ing on the out­comes of the vi­o­lence. Most im­por­tantly, you re­ally care about the prin­ci­pal char­ac­ters. The ti­tle, by the way, is the name of the reser­va­tion on which the events un­fold so dra­mat­i­cally. Speak­ing of odd cou­ples, let’s wel­come the third “trip” film in which odd cou­ple Steve Coogan and Rob Bry­don team up once again to take us on a scenic jour­ney that in­volves vis­its to a num­ber of gourmet restau­rants and some mouth-wa­ter­ing nou­veau cui­sine. Who would have thought, af­ter see­ing the orig­i­nal The Trip (2010), that the se­ries would con­tinue? But here we are again with the for­mula pretty much un­changed. While driv­ing along the coast of south­ern Spain, vis­it­ing ho­tels and restau­rants that Bry­don will re­view for The New York Times, the pair amuse one an­other with tall sto­ries, spot-on im­per­son­ations of showbiz char­ac­ters and ami­able bick­er­ing. They’re like an old mar­ried cou­ple, ex­cept per­haps they talk more than many old mar­ried cou­ples do.

Edited down, like the orig­i­nal film and its se­quel, The Trip to Italy (2014), from a six-part TV se­ries made for the BBC and di­rected, as usual, by Michael Win­ter­bot­tom, The Trip to Spain more than ever presents ob­vi­ously fic­tion­alised ver­sions of the char­ac­ters. How much of it ac­cu­rately de­picts the lives of Coogan and Bry­don is prob­a­bly known only to them­selves — they wrote/im­pro­vised it, af­ter all. Bry­don is mar­ried to Sally (Re­becca John­son) and lives in Lon­don with his wife and two kids; Coogan, in the wake of his suc­cess­ful screen­play and lead­ing role in Philom­ena, flits back and forth be­tween LA and Lon­don but, ac­cord­ing to this pre­sum­ably not quite ac­cu­rate self-por­trait, his man­ager has dropped him and his lat­est screen­play is to be rewrit­ten by some­one younger and more “with it”. He’s also given a 20-year-old son, Jonathan (Kyle Soller), with a preg­nant girl­friend and other com­pli­ca­tions that the film will re­veal.

Apart from the scenery (glo­ri­ous) and the food (mouth-wa­ter­ing), the core of the film, once again, is the ban­ter be­tween these two old friends. There are the usual clever im­i­ta­tions: Michael Caine, Woody Allen, Mick Jag­ger. It’s all very amus­ing but also over­fa­mil­iar. The im­i­ta­tions were fresher in the pre­vi­ous films, the tall sto­ries and jokes were fun­nier. It’s good to be sit­ting in on the crazy con­ver­sa­tions of these two in­sa­tiable show-offs, but it’s get­ting just a lit­tle bit stale.

And also a bit weird. The con­clu­sion, which I won’t de­scribe, and which in­volves only Coogan, is se­ri­ously strange and rather silly. What it means, if it means any­thing at all, is a mys­tery. Maybe that’s the point.

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