Friday, 8 September 2017

Wind River

Wind River could have been a classic, even a Wow!, but in the end it lost its way.

Written and directed by Taylor Sheridan, who wrote the amazing Sicario and the brilliant Hell or High Water, Wind River is full of amazing and brilliant scenes of its own. Unfortunately, just one not-so-brilliant scene was enough to knock off a half-star and keep Wind River out of my top ten of the year. The same thing happened with Hell or High Water, though I did give it four stars anyway. Sicario actually shared similar flaws, but the nature of that story allowed me to overlook them in a way I can’t do this time. Bottom line: I think Sheridan and I need to have a long chat. 

Wind River stars Jeremy Renner as Cory Lambert, a wildlife officer/game tracker in Wyoming who stumbles across the body of his close friend’s teenage daughter lying in the snow in the middle of nowhere (there’s lots of nowhere in Wyoming) on the Wind River Indian Reservation. It looks like foul play, so the FBI is called in, but they send only one agent: the young Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen), who has no idea what she’s getting into (or how to dress for the weather). Ben (Graham Greene), the world-weary local sheriff, is more than a little worried about Jane’s abilities, but she starts her investigation on the right foot by asking Cory to assist her. Cory, Jane and Ben work together to track down (literally) the crime and the criminals. Along the way, Jane learns a few things about Indigenous culture from people like Cory’s friend, Martin (Gil Birmingham) and the parents of Cory’s ex-wife, Wilma (Julia Jones): Dan and Alice Crowheart (Apesanahkwat and Tantoo Cardinal). 

The acting by all those mentioned above is natural and terrific, with a special nod to Olsen and Renner (it may his best role). The characters are well-written and largely well-developed (I would have liked to know a lot more about Ben’s story), though Cory, like too many other Sheridan characters, was much too hard (too macho?) for my liking (especially as he is the protagonist). 

The writing as a whole is exceptional, with lots of Sheridan’s brilliant dialogue (especially evident in scenes involving Indigenous people). I particularly appreciated the fact that the story, inspired by true events, was written to attract attention to the issue of North America’s many missing and murdered Indigenous women. Very few films depict the  difficult life of Indigenous people today as well as Wind River does. The grief involved is very well presented in Wind River. But the denouement, which felt more than a little anticlimactic, included the scene I mentioned above, one that was so violent and over-the-top (reminding me of Tarantino), and ended with such a bad line, that I could only shake my head with disappointment, imagining what could have been. A great ending (like the ending of Sicario) could have made Wind River my favourite film of the year. 

Given the setting for the film, the cinematography could hardly go wrong and it didn’t disappoint, with lots of mountains and snow. As an offbeat modern Western thriller, maybe the violence is not out of place. And I know that Sheridan’s heart is in the right place. But for now I must stick with my initial reaction and give Wind River only a solid ***+. My mug is up. 

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