Preview: “Only the Brave”

“A tough film to watch…”  – Patrick King, REEL BRIEF

Gripping. Emotional. Intense forest fire scenes doesn’t come close to describing the smoke, ashes and heat this film pours down on the woodlands and viewers.

Powerful roles from a superb cast of known actors, actresses and handfuls of newcomers. Josh Brolin. And Miles Teller! Jeff Bridges, the movie’s steady hand. But none better than Jennifer Connelly’s screen performance!

The outdoor fire scenes are easily the best cinematography since 2015’s “The Revenant”. You’ll feel so close to the flames, your eyebrows may get singed!

A remarkable tribute to these first responders and their line of work, their families, and the esprit de corps they share.

Only the Brave” opens in theaters nationwide this Friday.

Grade: A

“Only the Brave” is rated PG-13 for thematic content, some sexual references, language, and drug use. Its running time is 2 hours and 14 minutes.



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Movie Review – “Victoria & Abdul”

“An interesting and charming start… Victoria & Abdul awkwardly takes on a more serious tone by mid-movie…largely leaving behind the film’s witty humor and successful banter established between the two. …Wait to rent it”.

– Patrick King, REEL BRIEF

It’s easy to understand why the widespread popularity of series like “Game of Thrones” or “Outlander” has garnered so many loyal television fans. Viewers enjoy stepping back in time to witness snappy foreign dialects, the intricacy of throwback wardrobes, and get spellbound by the distinct personalities presented within each hierarchy or kingdom. Or, in the case of “Victoria & Abdul”, a monarchy. Stephen Frears, who brought us the Oscar-nominated “The Queen” in 2006 and last year’s hilarious “Florence Foster Jenkins”, directs this loosely based true story of England’s Queen Victoria in 1887.

Victoria & Abdul” charts an interesting and charming start, taking us to Queen Victoria’s (Judi Dench) historic 50th year atop the royal throne. To properly mark such an occasion, Her Majesty orders that two gentlemen from the British colony of India appear at her Golden Jubilee celebration bearing a gift. Quickly a satisfying teacher-pupil relationship is fostered between the 24-year old Indian named Abdul Karim (Ali Fazal) and the elderly monarch fighting boredom.

This film’s high point is the glimpse behind the scenes of the British royalty and the equally enchanting on-screen rapport of Dench and Fazal. Dench, who also played Queen Victoria in 1997’s “Mrs. Brown”, delivers another flawless performance. Surprising is Fazal’s ability match Dench’s award-worthy work step-for-step throughout the movie. Fazal’s personal aide role as Abdul highlights a passionate teacher (called a “munshi”) who always educates and informs the isolated and lonely Victoria.

After a blistering and pompous beginning, “Victoria & Abdul” awkwardly takes on a more serious tone by mid-movie…largely leaving behind the film’s witty humor and successful banter established between the two. The story’s sharp dialogue and goodness suddenly replaced with accusations, discrimination, and outright hatred by close associates and family of the Queen. “Victoria & Abdul” darkens fast. Too fast, really. The back-and-forth friendship of the two swings wildly from hot to cold…too quick to almost seem plausible under the circumstances.

Just as fascinating as this rise of an Indian to be a servant to the British monarch is the century-old story on how it was discovered. Following Queen Victoria’s death in 1901, all records of Abdul Karim’s service and relationship to the crown were removed from the royal archives. Not until journalist Shrabani Basu found clues to their friendship in 2003, and later described it in her book “Victoria & Abdul: The True Story of the Queen’s Closest Confidant”, did modern history fully understand and acknowledge this royal story. And now you should too…just wait to rent it.

Grade: C+

“Victoria & Abdul” is rated PG-13 for some thematic elements and language. Its running time is 1 hour and 52 minutes.

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Movie Review – “Blade Runner 2049”

“Fascinating and smart! This neo-noir continuation admirably honors its Blade Runner roots.”

Patrick King, REEL BRIEF

Thirty-five years after Harrison Ford brought us futuristic Los Angeles Police Officer Rick Deckard in Ridley Scott’s original science fiction thriller, the “Blade Runner” saga continues using clever puzzle pieces in a complex bid for humans to avoid extinction. Director Denis Villeneuve, who brought us last year’s intriguing alien mind-bender “Arrival”, masterfully delivers a fascinating and smart new sci-fi chapter that’s sure to delight the faithful “Blade Runner” wonks out there.

With a top-shelf cast led by Ryan Gosling as LAPD’s “Officer K”, we find bio-engineered humans called “Replicants” fully integrated into society, yet still discriminated against by humans at their own peril.

Ford, reprising his 1982 role as Deckard, plays a compelling and vital role in this formidable film. You won’t find a momentary or token appearance by the “Star Wars” veteran just to please “Blade Runner” fans. No, you’ll see a funny, mindful and, yet, historic Ford raise this movie’s enjoyment factor tenfold. Rounding out the exceptional cast are Academy Award winner Jared Leto (“Dallas Buyers Club”) and Netflix political powerhouse Robin Wright from “House of Cards”. Both are instrumental into the methodical examination into human-made beings and the threats posed by them.

Ford’s significance is key to the film’s overall journey as Gosling dominates this sequel trying to find the ground truth surrounding the discovery of a replicant body buried on a farm. One of the movie’s most appealing aspects is seeing Ford’s character resurface after over three decades and work side-by-side with the younger law enforcer.

“Blade Runner 2049” is a gripping tale told over nearly 3 hours and encompasses successful traits found in many epic sci-fi endeavors. We’re instantly reminded of Charlton Heston’s painful discovery of the Statue of Liberty in the original 1968 “Planet of the Apes” as ruins from another popular U.S. city move across the theater screen here in 2017. Additionally, the human concern for survival is always at the forefront in “Blade Runner 2049”. Like other popular sci-fi storylines taking place in the future, a reversal of roles between humans and their submissive replicants gets dangerously and thoroughly explored using holographic and reproduction themes.

This neo-noir continuation admirably honors its “Blade Runner” roots. It views like a 3-part premium miniseries being binge-watched to catch the audience up on happenings in Los Angeles over twenty-plus years. Parts of the film are slower than others, but tidbits of information and clues are constantly being dropped to bring the story’s true genius into sharper focus. Fans of the 1982 place-setter with Harrison Ford’s duty-bound character will fully embrace this bridge into Gosling’s life and police work as Officer K. But even novices to the “Blade Runner” adventure can find high-entertainment value in this intelligent science fiction thriller.

Grade: A-

“Blade Runner 2049” is rated R for violence, some sexuality, nudity, and language. Its running time is 2 hours and 44 minutes.

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Movie Review – “Brad’s Status”

“A must-see movie for every parent of a teenager!” – Patrick King, REEL BRIEF

Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat social media venues provide countless opportunities to share our instantaneous actions and thoughts. Perhaps too much so, to the point of sensory overload. Each outlet giving us the ability to catch up and reminisce with others near or far. But what if seeing the fortunes and exuberant lives of friends creates a self-loathing, unhealthy competition with needless comparisons? Meet Brad Sloan (Ben Stiller), husband to Melanie (Jenna Fischer) and father to college-bound 17-year old Troy (Austin Abrams).

Brad’s family and social status is littered with self-doubt and a sense of insignificance when measured against his peers. On a father and son college tour, Brad (Stiller) must cope with his own feelings of inadequacy and lack of self-worth as he racks and stacks his modest accomplishments with his old college chums’ achievements.

Realizing at the age of 47 that he may have fewer years ahead of him than behind, Stiller is caught weighing his desire for content vs. ambition later in life. Younger viewers will probably find Brad’s attempt to reconcile his career path to be boring and less enjoyable than his helicopter dad antics. Older moviegoers might find this film too myopic and self-centered to care about Brad’s minor discomforts in an otherwise deeply satisfying, healthy life. But parents who’ve kept themselves up at night worrying about their teenager’s future can take comfort is seeing the fruits of “Brad’s Status”.

We watch in fascination as Stiller’s character feels he must justify his son’s worthiness to attend Harvard, oblivious to the fact that the younger Sloan has the academic gift and musical skills to merit enrollment. Brad’s insecurities don’t end there, though. Dropped back onto a campus, his personal yardstick of what defines success gets debated and career choices questioned.

“Brad’s Status” impressively looks at how quickly our children grow up. More importantly, it describes how proud they make us feel. All their small achievements as a child amassed into one thoughtful, intelligent, and independent young adult in the end.

A must-see movie for every parent of a teenager, “Brad’s Status” has several self-deprecating, funny moments at Stiller’s expense. Overall, though, it tackles the compassion and seriousness of one’s life. Stiller does a worthy job as Brad, particularly in the film’s most awkward, narrative moments. But it’s the exceptional work of the talented, now 21-year old child star Austin Abrams, who carries this story. An abrupt ending only earns a slight downgrade because the last two scenes succinctly underscore the movie’s heartfelt message.

Grade: A-

“Brad’s Status” is rated R for language. Its running time is 2 hours.

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Movie Review – “Columbus”

“The agony of “Columbus” brings thoughts of gargling shards of glass.”

Patrick King, REEL BRIEF

Every year a handful of films are difficult to watch due to a trio of fateful missteps. A common denominator of these dreadful storylines is that they contain toothless scripts with no ability to bite and hold viewers’ attention. Lackluster plots on paper can’t even be saved by excellent actors and actresses putting their full weight behind the doldrums of uninspired dialogue.  A great journey of words from a compelling script can overcome bad acting, but Academy Award-worthy performances can’t pull a poor narrative across the finish line to big screen excellence…even with spectacular cinematography. Unfortunately, the directorial debut of video critic Kogonada fails in each of these categories.

Set in Columbus, Indiana, the self-proclaimed hotspot to modern building architecture, this story starts off at a mind-numbing pace and, yet, somehow gets even slower the rest of the way. “Star Trek” (2009) helmsman John Cho portrays the 35-year old son to an urban modernist taken ill before a speech to his architect followers. The sad, largely toxic relationship between Cho’s “Jin” character and his dying Korean father never registers on the Care Meter because enough screen time isn’t devoted to them—only the byproducts of the elder’s vision upon the skyline.

Another proven young star, Haley Lu Richardson from last year’s successful “The Edge of Seventeen” and “The Bronze” twin billets, plays a high school graduate holding back on a chance to follow her dreams to stay in Columbus with her recovering drug addict mother. Like Cho, Richardson’s screen talents never emerge thanks to a low energy script that at times felt like some scenes might have been filmed on the fly, sans any direction or words given out ahead of “Action!”. Together, Cho and Richardson pose as tour guides for art symbols…but the distinctness of Columbus’ modern trophies isn’t nearly as great as the film implies. Most cities and towns have iconic features with powerful stories behind them.

If there was ever a movie that needed a clown holding a red balloon below a sewer grate, this was it. Between the extremely long film shots and painful periods of random nothingness found in awkwardly quiet scenes, “Columbus” wastes precious movie minutes with self-injected boredom. Watching Richardson’s Casey silently make a sandwich in her kitchen capped a dozen like moments of shear madness in production. It makes one wonder just how bad the scenes which ended up on the cutting room floor must have been.

The rapid-fire distribution of cigarettes handed out between Cho and Richardson made me wonder if “Columbus” was just an infomercial for the nicotine industry. You can find fewer smokes puffed in Vietnam combat movies.

The agony of “Columbus” brings thoughts of gargling shards of glass. Despite two established movie faces, a dry script and story implodes this film’s structure…so stand back. Way back!

Grade: F

“Columbus” is not rated. Its running length is 1 hour and 44 minutes.

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Movie Review – “Stronger”

“The film’s greatest attribute is that it places each of us in Bauman’s hospital room. And in his wheelchair. We wonder, as Gyllenhaal does, how we’d struggle to find our old life and chase new relationships with relatives and loved ones… Brilliant acting shines bright in this true story, taking viewers much further than the “Boston Strong” mantra”.

– Patrick King, REEL BRIEF

Fans of Jake Gyllenhaal and true-life dramas retold on film will find “Stronger” both heartbreaking and inspirational. Starring as 2013 Boston Marathon bombing survivor Jeff Bauman, Gyllenhaal teams up with movie newcomer Tatiana Maslany to give an emotional account that of how Bauman persevered through horrendous injuries to overcome mental and physical adversities. The teamwork between Gyllenhaal and Maslany is the best on-screen, give-and-take relationship since last year’s supportive twosome of Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone shined in “La La Land”.

“Stronger” flourishes because it’s always focused on relationships in Bauman’s life rather than the bombing and the two terrorists that gripped Boston and the nation four years ago. In Gyllenhaal’s best physical acting to date, we see a simplistic twentysomething in love—only to find his life forever changing in the blink of an eye. Using his razor-sharp wit, it’s Gyllenhaal’s maimed Bauman character that holds his family together until grief, depression, and hopelessness set in.

The film’s greatest attribute is that it places each of us in Bauman’s hospital room. And in his wheelchair. We wonder, as Gyllenhaal does, how we’d struggle to find our old life and chase new relationships with relatives and loved ones. Bauman must contemplate a reliance upon others every day—no, make that every hour–just to get around. Strangers point to Bauman’s survival as a victory against terrorism, but Gyllenhaal’s role is unmistakably shaken to his core as he tries desperately to avoid placing himself in the loss column.

Despite being mostly predictable, “Stronger” still holds the audience’s attention throughout. It smartly frames the hero status bestowed on Bauman by the media against the uneasiness to which the rabid Boston sports fan grapples in the public limelight. A touching and combative ordeal unfolds as family dynamics are stressed and relationships tested in terms of heartache and PTSD issues. Director David Gordon Green goes to great length to show how hard rehabilitation can be and living with someone who can’t care for themselves.

Brilliant acting shines bright in this true story, taking viewers much further than the “Boston Strong” mantra. “Stronger” marks Gyllenhaal’s best work since 2013’s “Nightcrawler”. But the film’s top performance belongs to Tatiana Maslany as Jeff Bauman’s girlfriend and crutch. In what’s bound to be her career’s breakout movie, Maslany is the catalyst to wounds being healed and a new life emerging out from tragedy. Likewise, a small but significant role played by Costco Wholesale earns the retailer appreciation and smiles from moviegoers.

“Stronger” hits movie theaters nationwide this week.

Grade: B+

“Stronger” is rated R for language throughout, some graphic injury images, and brief sexuality/nudity. Its running time is 2 hours.

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Movie Review – “It”

“It” is an instant cult classic for the ages… Not since 1985’s “The Breakfast Club” by John Hughes, have ordinary teenagers been so enjoyable and fascinating to watch.

Patrick King, REEL BRIEF

Leave it to a handful of big-screen newcomers to earn the highest recorded weekend box office tally ever for the month of September. Grossing over a projected $117 million in the United States during its debut week, “It” marked the largest opening weekend in September–doubling the earnings of the previous record holder, “Paranormal Activity 3” ($52.6M), in 2011. This new frightening killer clown tale, adapted from Stephen King’s classic novel, also earned the largest opening for a horror movie in filmmaking history and the third highest opening weekend this year, behind only “Beauty and the Beast” and “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2”. Not bad for a film that took a modest $35 million to produce.

While horror films have always enjoyed a popularity and faithful fan following from a significant percentage of moviegoers, conventional wisdom has never pegged this film genre as one to compete to the levels of a drama or science-fiction thrillers. Throw in a killer clown (Bill Skarsgard) taking aim at children in a small U.S. town, and theaters should be abandoned for “It” show times. But they’re not. Instead, the creeper clown show with blood and guts is thriving! With the enormous record-breaking ticket sales and rave reviews, audiences have already bestowed “It” is an instant cult classic for the ages.

What makes “It” widely appealing is the banter and rapport of six teenagers facing tragedy and unpleasant circumstances as one. Awkward child-parent exchanges, a budding love triangle, school bullies picking on the weaker student body, and an unsettling father-daughter relationship all add fuel to an already volatile and violent clown rampage.

Mixed in between terrifying clown appearances are well-written one-liners and deeper insights into each teen’s unique character. As we learn more about these kids and their quirky personalities, there’s one role that remains a dark, deadly mystery: Pennywise the Clown.

Word of mouth reviews from satisfied theatergoers over the next few weeks will bolster this film’s already towering success. Is “It” scary? Yes, but only during a few key moments of the strong story-line. Overall, this movie is about teen relationships and how they interact with each other and their parents. The dialogue is a mesmerizing combination of crude talk and wholesome jests—but always feels real when delivered by the exceptional young cast.

With “It” slated as only the first look of a two-part series, we’ll have to wait until 2019 to see what the next chapter brings. As for this 2017 appetizer, be prepared to jump back in your seat…or at least avert your eyes at certain, uncomfortable times. But go see this film for the funny teenager moments and clever integration of fear and humor into the script. You won’t be alone, I promise you that. Plus, you’ll be able to keep up with the water-cooler talk everyone’s chatting about.

Grade: B+

“It” is rated R for violence/horror, bloody images, and language. Its running time is 2 hours and 15 minutes.

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Movie Review – “Patti Cake$”

I did not see this sensational underdog story coming!

I was floored by “Patti Cake$”…  Powerful…and inspiring!

– Patrick King, REEL BRIEF

Each year, countless movies I review never live up to their pre-release hype, despite award-winning directors and easy-to-watch, proven big-screen stars headlining those films. But like a history professor reading from a stack of term papers at the end of a college course, a gem will emerge on film from time to time that separates it from the rest. These magnificent works shine brighter than all others…even the very good ones. For me, these stellar movies—from start to finish–appear in theaters only a handful of times over the course of a calendar year. “Patti Cake$” is one of these movies.

“Patti Cake$” follows the dream of one Patricia Dumbromski, a young, overweight, white female from New Jersey who lives with her alcoholic mother (Bridget Everett) and wheelchair-assisted grandmother, Nana (Cathy Moriarty). Patti, who calls herself by the moniker “Killer P” as she tries to show off her terse rapping tongue, is constantly body-shamed by neighborhood bullies and chastised by her mother…a washed up 1980s talent now left singing in a dive bar to sustain her drinking problem.

I have deep respect for rappers as artists, but their music won’t find its way into my iTunes playlists. I did not, however, see this sensational underdog story coming! In fact, I knew next to nothing about the plot-line before sitting down to see it. I was floored by “Patti Cake$”. It’s powerful…and inspiring! An uplifting music story about one’s aspirations of making it big in the rap business. Leading star and singer, Australian newcomer Danielle Macdonald as Patti, is a superstar both on-stage and off in “Patti Cake$”.

Attempting to break into one of the hardest music culture’s in the industry and justify her serious rapping repertoire to naysayers, Patti never loses faith in herself or those closest to her. The film’s entire ensemble is superb and deals authenticity to the screen in large doses of realism. Killer P may have a special gift when it comes to rap lyrics and confidence on stage, but that doesn’t mean life’s doors won’t need to be pounded until one opens.

Several aspects of “Patti Cake$” makes this film a chart-topper. Three performances stand out. Macdonald’s magical rise would not have been possible without the spectacular job she did selling herself as a rap heavyweight buying her time. Hareesh (Siddarth Dhananjay) is fabulous as Patti’s biggest supporter and closest confidant. But no screen role, aside from Macdonald’s, can match that of Everett’s…a lost, sometimes angry soul whose stage time as passed her by. This exceptional film stays believable from the start and never loses its grip on the audience. In the best final scene since last year’s emotional, best picture nominated “Lion”, the “Patti Cake$” ending is both perfect and real. If viewers can sit through crude and rude dialogue throughout, they’ll find an engrossing and deeply satisfying film endeavor.

Earning my first A+ letter-grade in 2017, here’s “Patti Cake$”.  Close your eyes and open your ears to a superstar!

Grade: A+

“Patti Cake$” is rated R for language throughout, crude sexual references, some drug use, and a brief nude image. Its running time is 1 hour and 48 minutes.

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Movie Review – “Good Time”

“Robert Pattinson takes on his biggest, deepest role so far and shines brilliantly!”

Patrick King, REEL BRIEF

One of the more interesting aspects of living in southern California years ago were the televised police chases that broke into regularly televised programming on a nearly weekly basis. Filmed from a flock of overhead helicopters, these intense manhunts always seemed to end in a desperate act or crash by those fleeing justice. The inquisitive public watching the frantic pacing and bizarre behavior dramatically unfold live, whether it took mere minutes or even hours for handcuffs to be placed on the accused. That non-stop intensity dominates throughout “Good Time”, starring “Twilight” film series mega-star and vampire Robert Pattinson.

Directed by siblings Ben and Joshua Safdie, “Good Time” takes moviegoers on a distraught 24-hour, post-bank robbery ride by a pair of brothers (Pattinson and Ben Safdie). In one of the most thrilling and crazy days captured on film in 2017, Pattinson and Safdie underscore bad decisions in a disastrous relationship while attempting to stay one step ahead of the law.

Shot entirely in New York City and Queens, trouble begins when Benny Safdie’s character, Nick Nikas, gets arrested but roughed up in jail awaiting his day in court. Excitement ensues when Constantine “Connie” Nikas (Pattinson), must find and free his younger brother in police custody at a nearby hospital.

A character-propelled movie, “Good Time” skillfully allows the audience to ride shotgun in this crime drama told from the criminal’s perspective. While both Pattinson and Safdie give remarkable performances, it’s Pattinson’s dominant role as decision-maker for the duo that affords him the opportunity to flaunt his most serious acting skills to date. Barely recognizable, Pattinson’s chaotic and restless mannerisms alone are worth the price of theater admission.

It’s not surprising that this film earned a nomination for the coveted Palme d’Or honor, the highest prize given out at the Cannes Film Festival each year in France. Pattinson takes on his biggest, deepest role so far and shines brilliantly! Together, Pattinson and Safdie are a wrecking ball of caged personas, impatience, and poor decisions against anyone or anything standing in the way of their brotherhood.

Over the course of one night, the audience gets to peek inside the frenzied life to two brothers who love each despite bad life choices and the resulting dire circumstances that follows. “Good Time” is an adrenaline rush that’s impossible to predict where it’ll end…just like those televised police chases on L.A. freeways and off-ramps.

Grade: A

“Good Time” is rated R for language throughout, violence, drug use, and sexual content. Its running time is 1 hour and 40 minutes.

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Movie Review – “Wind River”

“While I don’t think “Wind River” is nearly as pleasing of a movie journey as Sheridan’s “Hell or High Water” or “Sicario” (2015) screenplays, it is a solid, yet violent, crime drama with Renner at the helm.”

– Patrick King, REEL BRIEF

From the screenwriter of last year’s highly acclaimed and Oscar-nominated best picture “Hell or High Water” comes another thoughtful and character-driven crime thriller. In “Wind River”, we find Taylor Sheridan not only providing the film’s ambitious script but also sliding behind the camera in his directorial debut. The result is a well-executed homicide mystery deep inside the isolated lands of a Native American Indian reservation.

In easily his best screen performance since 2009’s “The Hurt Locker”, Jeremy Renner brings a calming influence throughout this nail biter. As a U.S. Fish & Wildlife officer, Renner assists a novice F.B.I. field agent (Elizabeth Olsen) investigating the suspicious death of a young American Indian. Using his steady rifle hand and unmatched tracking skills, Renner’s character brings clarity and clues to the murder scene high atop the wintry mountains of the Wind River Indian Reservation in Wyoming.

“Wind River” is a methodical whodunit that keeps your attention from start to finish. A supporting cast, while not nearly as engrossing as Renner, raises the film’s suspense by drilling further into the background of a handful of other characters. The younger sibling to popular television twins Mary-Kate and Ashley of “Full House” fame, Elizabeth Olsen competently portrays a fledgling Bureau agent outside her comfort zone but eager and smart enough to seek Renner’s outdoor expertise for help.

While I don’t think “Wind River” is nearly as pleasing of a movie journey as Sheridan’s “Hell or High Water” or “Sicario” (2015) screenplays, it is a solid, yet violent, crime drama with Renner at the helm. The film’s best attributes are the seclusion it paints of life on the Indian reservation and the stark contrast between Renner’s wise, older wilderness expert character and Olsen’s inexperienced federal agent role.

The sprawling, majestic snow-covered mountains of Wyoming provide an amazing look at Renner’s daily workspace and within Olsen’s federal authority. Together they hunt down evil with the aid of a local tribal police chief despite odds and severe weather stacked against them. While the film’s homicide takes top importance throughout the storyline, it’s the personal history behind Renner’s Cory Lambert role that is the most intriguing.

Don’t look for “Wind River” to garner the high praise and several Academy Award nominations that Sheridan’s other screenplays raked in. As one of Hollywood’s newest directors, though, Sheridan’s future looks extremely bright as he continues to unleash his talents in well-developed, gripping crime dramas.

Grade: B

“Wind River” is rated R for strong violence, a rape, disturbing images, and language. Its running time is 1 hour and 51 minutes.

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