Wind River Portrays a Severe Snowscape

Wind River is a thriller set in the harsh, remote, snow-covered landscape of Wind River, a Native American reservation somewhere in the USA.

Image: Wind River Facebook Page

The story shows the few inhabitants, workers, police and the FBI battling against the elements, against the depravity of human nature, and against their own weakness and suffering. The main action revolves around the mysterious death of a young Native American woman. And it is this death that is supposed to form the message of the film. Native Americans, Wind River states, have been unfairly forced into locations like Wind River, and murders of these inhabitants often go unsolved, particularly those of young women. Thrown in amongst these locals is the resident and professional hunter Cory Lambert (Jeremy Renner). Renner is the drawcard for the film. He’s rugged and capable and acts well. The other main character is Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen) an FBI agent sent to investigate the murder. In over her head she teams up with Cory, relying heavily on his local knowledge and hunting skills.

It seems counterintuitive to cast two white American actors as the main characters and heroes when a film is trying to make a statement about the sidelining of Native Americans. But perhaps this casting was intentional because without these character/actors the message might not have been noticed. Or maybe the choice of these two characters was supposed to underscore the liminality of the Native American people group. Regardless, the important theme that forms the backdrop for Wind River is put across too gently. It is largely drowned out by jittery story development but also by beautiful cinematography, well-drawn characters, good acting and the relentless and unforgiving environment.

I didn’t leave the cinema feeling sorry for the characters. I left wondering how anyone could survive in that freezing, pitiless climate.

Wind River is well worth seeing. It opens at cinemas in South Africa on 3 November 2017.

How to Get Away with Murder (not manslaughter)

Okay so somehow I managed to miss the brilliant TV series How to Get Away with Murder when it was screened in South Africa earlier this year. My first introduction to the show was on an aeroplane on a return journey from the USA in July this year. I caught a few episodes before it was time to land and was totally hooked. I ordered the whole of series 1 on DVD (currently R279 from Takealot.com) and have spent the last couple of weeks watching the 15 episodes.

IMG_3689For those who don’t know How to Get Away with Murder stars the excellent Viola Davis as super-tough defense attorney-cum-teacher, Annalise Keating. Annalise’s lecture series is entitled “How to get away with murder” and in it she teaches students how to successfully defend clients regardless of their guilt or innocence. While the courtroom and classroom scenes play out in the foreground a real murder takes place in the background involving Annalise’s four specially chosen students. “How to get away with murder” becomes agonisingly real for these students and for Annalise and her staff. While the background murder story is revealed bit by bit as the series progresses, the murderer is revealed only in the last episode.

The well-developed characters are very different from one another, the tension is extreme and the plot is so clever my concentration never wavered for a moment.

How to Get Away with Murder comes highly recommended. According to one source season 2 releases in South African in January 2016.

The beauty of a human life portrayed in Fruitvale Station

A review by Brenda Daniels.

Based on actual events, Fruitvale Station is the story of 22 year old Oscar Grant. He was shot in the back by police during an altercation at the Fruitvale train station, California, in the early hours of 1 January 2009. The killing was captured by other commuters on personal cameras and mobile phones. Protests and a court case ensued with the guilty police officer convicted of involuntary manslaughter.

This film humanly retells what happened but it also provides for the audience a glimpse into the life and person of Oscar Grant III (played by Michael B Jordan). It does this roughly by bracketing two New Year’s Days – one in 2008 and the other in 2009.

In 2008 we see Grant being visited by his mother, Wanda (Octavia Spencer), while he is in prison. In 2009, or rather New Year’s Eve 2008, we see Oscar as a free man talking to his girlfriend, Sophina (Melonie Diaz), who is making New Year’s Resolutions.

The conversations and events that take place on these two days serve to paint a picture of the multi-layered human being that Grant was. A man with a criminal past, infidelity and unreliability – yes. But also a man with a cherished four year old daughter, a man who loved and relied on his mother, and a human being with warmth and thoughtfulness.

The importance of this film, I believe, doesn’t lie in the dramatisation of the real events. Its value lies in the telling of the story from the point of view of a young black man. From Grant, to his family, colleagues and friends, to even a flash of talk show host, Oprah Winfrey, on TV, the main characters in this film are black. White people appear only on the periphery; even the police officers who appear on the station platform at the end seem faceless and vague looking.

While the emphasis on black to the exclusion of white in Fruitvale Station is obvious I don’t believe this film is about race. It’s simply about showing that Oscar Grant, like many others before and after him, wasn’t just a name in a newspaper report. He was a much-loved, and mourned, human being. His life, as well as his death, should not be forgotten.

Fruitvale Station is currently showing at Cinema Nouveau cinemas in South Africa.

Michael B Jordan plays the title role as Oscar Grant in Fruitvale Station

Michael B Jordan plays the title role as Oscar Grant in Fruitvale Station (Source: Creative Commons)