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‘Wind River’ (review)

Produced by Elizabeth A. Bell, Peter Berg,
Matthew George, Basil Iwanyk, Wayne Rogers

Written and Directed by Taylor Sheridan
Starring Jeremy Renner, Elizabeth Olsen,
Gil Birmingham, Jon Bernthal, Julia Jones,
Kelsey Chow, Graham Greene

 

Wind River is a well-written, character-driven thriller very much in keeping with Taylor Sheridan’s previous screenplays, Hell or High Water and Sicario.

Sheridan makes his directorial debut with this film that takes its name from the desolate, snow-bound reservation in Wyoming.

Wind River is a very strong debut, but it can’t quite measure up to those two films.

I think most genre fans would agree that Sheridan and Jeremy Saulnier — who wrote and directed the excellent Blue Ruin and Green Room — are carving out the same kind of dark, violent cinematic territory as Sam Peckinpah, Don Siegel and Walter Hill.

They haven’t achieved that kind of status yet, but they both seem well on their way.

Jeremy Renner and Elizabeth Olsen get equal billing on the poster (you soon forget they’re both Avengers on the side), but it’s really Renner’s film. He plays Cory Lambert, a local game tracker who keeps the wolves and mountain lions from killing the farmers’ sheep and cows. His personal tragedy is central to the film, laying the groundwork for his dogged pursuit of justice in the murder of a local girl.

We never learn much about Olsen’s generically named, randomly assigned rookie FBI agent Jane Banner — it isn’t even established in the film that she is a rookie, except that she’s clearly in over her head from the very beginning. In a case where the victim froze to death running from her assailants, an FBI agent showing up in the middle of a snow storm with no winter clothing makes it clear that she’s not literally not suited for the job.

After getting minimal help from the understaffed tribal police (the great Graham Greene — who else? — plays the tribe’s top cop), Jane turns to Lambert for help. Lambert, despite having married a Native American woman and living on the land, is still an outsider himself, and one who has no authority when it comes to murder. But he knows the land and he knows the people and without him, Jane would have no chance at cracking the case.

Sheridan wrote such a great role for Emily Blunt in Sicario, so I’m surprised that the the biggest flaw in this film is Olsen’s character. It’s refreshing that she isn’t some sort of unrealistic super agent who has insights into this secretive community that no one else has. And there is, fortunately, no romance between her and Renner’s character. But for the film to not even address the consequences of her lack of experience? That feels off. I can’t help but think there’s a discarded draft out there with a better version of (or that makes much better use of) Jane Banner, rookie FBI agent.

The film ends with a sobering note about how many Native American women have gone missing in the U.S. — no one knows the real number. That fact leaves you with more of a chill in your bones than the shootouts and the blood on the snow.

If the film, which is based on a true story, ultimately fails its female protagonist, it draws attention to the all-too harrowing real crimes that inspired it.

 

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

 

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