MURDER MOST FOUL: Wind River, Lady Macbeth and Harmonium


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Warning: SPOILERS
Wind River is Taylor Sheridan’s third screenplay, but the first of his that he directed himself. It revolves around the discovery of the body of a female Native American, 18 years old, found dead in the snow, barefoot, having run who knows how many miles. So what happened to her and how did she end up there?
That’s certainly a good start for a who done it. And overall, Wind River is entertaining enough. It’s not really boring.
But I’m not convinced it really comes together that satisfactorily.

 

The strongest aspects of the film is the authentic feel of living on a Native American reservation. And the movie gets off some nice ones about who has authority, there are so many conflicting jurisdictions, and who is going to solve this murder.

 

At the same time, the mystery isn’t particular clever or smart. It is what it is and Graham Greene, who heads the reservation’s authorities, sums it up best when, at one point, he says this murder is solving itself.

 

And he’s right. I’m just not sure that should be considered a compliment. It didn’t take a lot of thought or special knowledge to find out who killed the teen. One clue leads to another and to another until the horrifying night of the crime is revealed.

 

But this also causes an issue in another area. In many ways, Wind River has one of the major faults of Sheridan’s first film, Sicario. Both have a major character, in both cases female, who don’t seem to have any reason to be in the film. If neither of the characters had shown up, the story would pretty much have worked itself out the way it does.

 

In other words, as was more or less stated by Greene’s character, the murder really does solve itself.

 

This might have been all right if either of these characters from Sicario and Wind River had been interesting. But both characters were fairly bland in personality and neither actor had anything to do.

 

With Jeremy Renner as a hunter working for the Parks Services. For some reason, for a mystery involving Native Americans, they decided a white character should be the lead. He doesn’t really sizzle the screen.

 

And Elizabeth Olsen in the thankless role of the FBI agent in charge of the investigation.

 

Though the title of the first feature from writer Alice Birch (from Nikolai Leskov’s Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk) and director William Oldroyd is Lady Macbeth, the title character’s deeds and personality don’t really reflect the literary source all that closely.

 

The motivations for the murders, the way the crimes are carried out and what happens as a result don’t really reflect the Bard’s character.

 

In fact, a more correct title would probably be The Countess of Monte Christo or Lady Todd because both of those stories are more nearly similar.

 

This may not be that important. However, the fact that the filmmakers don’t create a parallel personage suggest to some degree why the movie ultimately fails, I believe.

 

The plot revolves around Katherine (Florence Pugh), a young woman who basically has been sold in marriage and whose only worth to her decrepit father-in-law is his need for an heir, which will be a neat trick since Katherine’s husband doesn’t want to sleep with her (something her father-in-law blames on her).

 

She’s a virtual prisoner in her home, not allowed to go outside for walks, not allowed to do much of anything except sit all day in a rather fetching blue dress on a settee in the drawing room.

 

So when both men leave on business, she decides to stroll through the countryside and when done with that, she takes a lover, one of the farm workers.

 

When her father-in-law and husband return, she dispatches both of them with a cool, cold calmness.

 

And who could blame her.

 

But this is perhaps where the film breaks down because the filmmakers do blame her and blame her most earnestly. For like all the artists who attack the bourgeoisie, they always seem to adopt a very bourgeois morality by the time the story’s fully told.

 

And to add insult to injury, the filmmakers are hypocrites as far as I am concerned. Though Katherine is first made a victim of society, once she breaks free, she is made a victim once more, and this time by the writer and director as in the second half, they treat her as she was treated by the two men she murdered.

 

The two filmmakers give her only one way out, no other possibilities, and when she avails herself of said option, she is punished for their sin.

 

With an underdeveloped plot turn halfway through and an ending both silly and not remotely believable.

 

Harmonium, the powerful feature film from Japan’s Koji Fukuda, won the un certain regard jury prize at Cannes, but you’d never know it from the shameful way it’s been distributed on this side of the Pacific.

 

It had a blink and you’ll miss it run at the local Laemmle theaters (who have made their name on foreign and independent films), and not just any Laemmle theater, but the one in Santa Monica where arthouse movies are sent to die.

 

But Harmonium is a tense and taut thriller and an unforgiving tragedy.

 

From the opening scene when Toshio, a metal worker who has his own business in his garage, raises the door to the alleyway and across the road is Yasaka, an old friend of Toshio’s, you know things are not going to go well.

 

Yasaka has just been released from prison serving time for murder. Toshio offers him a job. Yasaka then insinuates himself into Toshio’s family, a wife and special needs child.

 

At that point the twists and turns start and are quite relentless.

 

With Kanji Furutachi as Toshio; Tadanobu Asino as Yasaka; and Mariko Tsutsui as Toshio’s wife Akie.

 

One of the finest films of the year.

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