On the surface, Taylor Sheridan’s American Frontier trilogy pits an unstoppable force versus an unmovable object. In Sicario, the feds scrambled to put an end to the cartels; in Hell or High Water, a pair of deep Texas brothers were holding out the bank branches that were responsible for taking away their land, and that of the rest of the territory; in Wind River, the most emotionally engaging of the three, a tracker hunts down the murderers who prey on the most weak and vulnerable.
Diving deeper into them, one encounters a trilogy that paints a dire portrayal of America, the one not featured in postcards and pop songs, the one that could very well be a million miles away from the metropolis that dictate the rules of the land. I already wrote at length on this after watching Hell or High Water, a picture that elucidates part of candidate Donald Trump’s massive voter appeal, so even though I am tempted to do so with Wind River and its depiction of snow and solitude encroaching upon the lives of Native Americans, I must refrain.
This leaves me with praising the film’s dreary atmosphere and its unrelenting suspense. Sheridan`s world is a lawless one, in which danger lurks around every corner. This only makes the Mexican standoff near the end of the movie one of the most pulse pounding sequences of its kind I can recall.
And of course, as mentioned above, it is the most emotionally involving.
The ending of Sicario is deeply cynical, and the one to Hell or High Water offers a small bit of satisfaction. Wind River is by far the saddest of the bunch, offering a view of life where the wicked triumph, where pleasures are few and small in between, and where justice may only truly be imparted if we take matters into our hands.
Seeing Jena Malone reminds me of my childhood, of that time, very long ago, where I watched her in a movie about high school cheaters with my mom and sisters. I don’t recall anything about the movie, not even if I actually watched it from start to end, but I do recall my family sitting around the television, and Jena Malone’s face in it.
Christians could learn a lot from examining a shot that occurs 3/4 into The Innocents. A Mother Superior has taken a baby from one of her nuns to bring it to a family for adoption. Only, she is actually going to leave it in the middle of a snowy field for the baby to die. She places the baby and the basket on the cold ground, but before she leaves, the Mother Superior takes the care of rubbing oil on the creature’s head, baptizing it.
Look on Hosea 6:6, and ponder.
A despairing thought that pops into my mind every so often has to do with the plague of violence that has been overrunning my country for over a decade now. My nation, which shall remain unnamed, harbors similar social and financial conditions as to those displayed in City of God. As the camera cut from one subject to the next, unrelenting in its energy, I had that thought again.
It goes like this. I do not think that the violence and crime epidemic of my country will ever go away because it is much easier to point a gun at someone and steal a pair of shoes in a matter of minutes, than it is to work five times a day for a meager salary in order to afford one.
More than any other movie that I can remember, and probably because it was made in Latin America, where the devils they fight are much more different than the demons of the United States, City of God perfectly illustrates the culture of death and corruption that is so ingrained in our poor, destitute nations.
A technical wonder to behold, sometimes an absolutely thrilling crime caper, others a subdued melancholic romance, Victoria is a feat of cinematic achievement that sadly, and I say this from the bottom of my heart, sadly fizzles out during its final half hour.
The reasons for that are understandable: one takes are technically liberating, but narratively constricting. I know exactly where I would have cut the film: back at the club where it all started. It would have made a nice finish. I actually thought the movie was going to end there, and I was getting ready to love it, when it decides to plunge on for thirty more minutes. The one take technique turns the remaining story into an overlong resolution that flirts with implausibility.
One of the passages of Scripture that I keep coming back to again and again is Genesis 18:25. “Will not the judge of all earth do what is right?” It is the trump card Abraham plays when trying to get Him to spare Sodom and Gomorrah; God agrees, of course.
I bring this up because one of the talking heads in Last Days in Vietnam says they had no way of knowing whether the refugees that were being airlifted out of Saigon were deserving of rescue. They were just doing the best they could.
When I think that justice on a massive scale is impossible, it’s because there is no way of gauging every individual human experience. For instance, the Vietnamese ransacked the embassy once they realized the Americans had betrayed them and left them behind. They could not know how the Americans were risking career, and in some cases even life, to get as many locals out as they could.
I don’t think there’s a right or wrong side to this scenario, but then where is justice? Both sides have equally valid and weighty arguments, so what gives?
Multiply that on a global scale and you see what I mean when I talk of the nonexistence of justice. It is not pure bleak and despair, however. Since believers in the resurrection know that the judge of all the earth will eventually do what is right, we can rest and do the best we can, for ourselves and others.
“In a nation that was proud of hard work, strong families, close-knit communities, and our faith in God, too many of us now tend to worship self-indulgence and consumption. Human identity is no longer defined by what one does, but by what one owns. But we’ve discovered that owning things and consuming things does not satisfy our longing for meaning. We’ve learned that piling up material goods cannot fill the emptiness of lives which have no confidence or purpose.”
Before writing about the response I had to Captain Fantastic, I want to briefly discuss a scene that occurs maybe twenty minutes into the movie. It takes place at night, inside a bunker lit with lamps. Ben (Viggo Mortensen), the patriarch of the clan with the awesome names, informs his children matter of factly that their mom is dead.
“She killed herself”, he tells them. “She finally did it.”
The camera then cuts to each of the six kids, resting on their faces to gauge their responses. You know how sometimes kids in movies will start to cry and it will look and sound like every other children wail? The reason behind it could be the loss of a parent, or the loss of their favorite candy, and they still cry the same way.
Matt Ross, the writer/director behind Captain Fantastic, seems to actually understand kids, tweens and teens, because what he accomplishes in that bunker scene is nothing short of fantastic. Most of the kids shed tears, but none of them grief in the same way. The youngest doesn’t even cry, and it is such an insightful little addition that you want to offer your condolences to Ross for whatever loss that might have spurned such revelation.
That understanding of his characters and the world around him serves him well, as Captain Fantastic romanticizes a lifestyle of sticking it to the man, while at the same time recognizing that there exists a certain vanity and arrogance in it. There is perhaps no final answer as to what the best way for raising a family is, and the argument for organic vs gmo, videogames vs physical activity and book knowledge vs what you learn when you`re out at midnight making out with a pretty stranger will carry on.
But Captain Fantastic knows this: if you love each other and remain together, half the battle is already won.
Most regular folk, regardless of political affiliation, would love to stand before congress and bravely denounce how broken the current political system is. And I am not only talking about American politics; I have a feeling citizens of all over the world would love to take this opportunity, if presented to them.
So I forgave the 11th hour speech on “democracy is broken”, masterfully delivered by Madeline Elizabeth Sloane (Jessica Chastain), before a Senate panel committee. It is cliche to the point of cringe, it is right before the plot takes a turn to the extremely silly, but heck if it ain’t noble.
In times such as these, we could definitely use more of that.
There have been 2 films in 2017 that have brought to mind Spartacus: Blood and Sand, my favorite television series: Logan, the elegiac superhero swan song, and War for the Planet of the Apes, a stellar capping off to mainstream cinema’s most thoughtful and moving trilogies.
The show’s exploration of vengeance and forgiveness is truly fascinating, putting on display the “enormous darkness of the heart” that one of the apes mentions to Caesar (Andy Serkis) during the final installment. It is also an unforgiving look into the lives of slaves, and the horrors they are forced to commit for the sake of their masters. However, instead of being preachy it becomes insightful. In its final season, the slaves, now holding all of the power, start committing atrocities against innocents. They have excuses for it, of course, but should bloodshed ever be rationalized?
War for the Planet of the Apes seems like a fluke in the Hollywood blockbuster churning machine. For a movie with conflict in the title, there are only two battles: one at the beginning and one at the end, tremendous set pieces that brim with suspense and emotion from start to finish.
The film is more concerned with the struggle waged in men’s souls, that constant struggle between turning the other cheek and raining fire from the sky, between tolerance and dictatorship.
The human race did not lose the planet because of a few battles against monkeys, but because in the vital, deciding moment in which the trigger had to be pulled or not, the apes gave us another chance, but we did not return the favor.
And of what good is Earth if our spirit has turned dark? Nature has a way of correcting course, so the worthy ones will inherit the planet.