Wind River – movie review

by James Robins / 13 September, 2017
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FBI agent Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen) and wildlife officer Cory (Jeremy Renner): snow and silence.

Shootouts with hints of the Wild West fill this morality tale.

Screenwriter Taylor Sheridan is an astute observer of the decay of American life. His films are rich with the iconography of the old ways – heroic cowboys, virtuous cops – but seethe under the weight of history and its consequences. His Sicario (directed by Denis Villeneuve) saw a determined FBI officer cross the Mexican border and find the drug war corrupting everything it touched. In Hell or High Water (directed by David Mackenzie), an economically destitute west Texas became a playground for righteous robbers.

Wind River may be Sheridan’s final panel in this triptych of morality tales. This time he directs his own script, a murder tale set on a Shoshone Native American reservation in Wyoming.

It begins with a teen in thin bloodstained pants and no shoes fleeing something terrible. Her body is found on a mountain, amid the “snow and silence”, by Cory (Jeremy Renner), a wildlife officer with more than a hint of cowboy stolidity. This being native land, an FBI agent, Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen), gets involved, but she’s unprepared for the bleakness of the locale and its residents’ bitterness.

 

Sheridan deftly weaves together this grim outlook with the pulse of narrative. But it’s a slow pulse – more glassy and still than tensely supercharged, as Sicario was. Wind River’s best moments are conversations between men who’ve lost everything: Cory finds the murdered girl’s father (Gil Birmingham) sitting in his front yard clutching a gun, his features smeared in paint. “What’s that?” he asks. “It’s my death face,” he responds. But he doesn’t know what a Shoshone death face looks like. There’s no one left to teach him. The ancient punishments inflicted on America’s indigenous people still linger.

If there is one flaw in Sheridan’s otherwise exemplary style, it is his tendency to resolve plot dilemmas with a chaotic shootout. Then again, this is America, where disputes often seem to end at the hollow end of a gun.

IN CINEMAS NOW

★★★★

This article was first published in the August 5, 2017 issue of the New Zealand Listener.

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