Sometimes it can be frustrating, when prior work creates unnecessary hype and expectation for a new project- in this case, Wind River, perhaps weighed down by the fact that it is written and directed by Taylor Sheridan, who previously wrote Sicario and Hell or High Water, two of the best thrillers released in the past few years. Personally, for me Wind River more than lives up to that expectation- its a finely crafted, atmospheric, character-driven procedural thriller that, yes, maybe suffers from one or two missteps, but on the whole is a great piece of work. One of the best films of 2017 in fact.
Wind River begins with a partly-clothed young woman fleeing across the frozen tundra at night. She’s in a pretty bad way. Cut to a daytime scene; Wildlife Officer Cory Lambert (Jeffrey Renner) is out doing his job, shooting wild wolves to protect livestock. Later when hunting down a mountain lion and its cubs that have killed some cattle he discovers a body frozen in the snow- the young woman we saw at the films opening. An FBI agent is summoned, Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen, hey, its something of an Avengers reunion) a fish-out-water operative who is inexperienced and needs Cory’s help to solve what quickly becomes a rape/murder investigation in what is, for Banner, a totally alien environment.
In some ways the mystery of what the girl was doing out in the snow, who she was fleeing from and who raped her, is incidental to the film. The heart and soul of this film is the barren, wintry landscape, and the melancholy that enshrouds the film and pretty much every character in it. Set in the Wind River Indian Reservation, the film is a study of the Native American’s plight, a defeated people lost and trapped by where they live.
Its a slow-burn film in which any violence is sudden and unexpected, and all the more powerful for that. I thought a shoot-out near the films conclusion was very well done – some have questioned the internal logic of it but hey, I doubt most people who are feeling threatened can coolly think themselves out of a situation when they think their lives are at risk and they have a gun cocked in their hand. Fight or flight and all that. I thought it was very well-choreographed and convincing.
Cory has a haunted past that drives him to help FBI Agent Banner and in a traditional movie, the denouncement that vindicates his actions would offer him peace and closure but it really doesn’t here. There is no getting lost family back, and while I’m hardly spoiling the film by saying the bad guy/s get caught/punished, I will say that it doesn’t really solve anything, and the air of melancholy and tragedy persists into the last scene and beyond. Wind River is perhaps partly crafted (and certainly marketed) as a crime thriller but really its a study of the plight of the Native American people, and of loss and pain. Its dark and devoid, really, of any hope- a sort of wintry Film Noir set in the barren snows of Wyoming.
Hey, I think we just found the writer/director for the next Blade Runner film…