Wind River is the latest feature directed by Taylor Sheridan, who previously wrote the screenplays for thrillers Sicario and Hell or High Water.
Inspired by true events, this is a sombrely toned film about the mysterious death of 18-year-old Native American Natalie, who we first see running barefoot in brutally cold Wyoming. The sparse beauty, with the magnificent mountain backdrop, demonstrates the striking American Midwest, as a female voiceover says, “There’s a meadow in my perfect world”.
Jeremy Renner plays Cory Lambert, a divorced wildlife officer with a young son who fends off mountain lions attacking the livestock. Renner acts well, a nice contrast to the action man characters he usually plays. Cory comes across the body of the dead girl and we see his emotions, an indication that he recognises her. FBI agent Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen) is summoned soon thereafter, as a Native American suspected homicide is federal business. She is also baffled and questions, “Why would a teenage girl be out here?”.
The close-up of the young woman’s body in the post-mortem is challenging to watch, the director not shying away from detail. Jane visits the victim’s house, determined to find some answers, happening upon the mother cutting herself with a pair of scissors, suffering her loss.
The intrigue of the suspected murder is sustained due to the unhurried pacing, setting the tone and preparing the audience for what’s yet to come. The film shakes its viewers when Jane and the Chief of the Natives police approach some youths in a hut where things turn nasty.
The visual contrasts of the Wyoming natural beauty with the terrible crimes of the Reservation are portrayed well by Sheridan. Though the movie is of a dark nature, there are several laughs to be had, in particular at the Chief’s dry humour, and the incredibly gruesome, tense standoff with Jane, the Chief and FBI agents facing suspicious workers. We discover what the girl experienced through a horrific set of events depicted in a flashback. Cory finally manages to track down the perpetrator of Natalie’s rape and things are brought to a justice of sorts, though he tries to weasel his way out – “You know what it’s like out in the frozen snow, nothing to do” – as if that is an excuse for his heinous actions.
The film is well done, particularly the visceral cinematography and acting. The women are shown to be strong characters –Natalie ran barefoot in the snow for six miles while the rapist couldn’t even make it more than a few yards. Cory also finally reveals to Jane the death of his own daughter, Annie, best friend of Natalie.
Wind River is not ground-breaking but credit should be given to Sheridan and the actors. It is a picture about the effect nature has on its inhabitants, and the hard lives people live out in the unforgiving wilderness. We are left with the final message: Native American women are the only US demographic that do not have a missing persons record, which leaves a bitter afterthought, making one wonder how many are really missing out there.
Wind River is released in selected cinemas on 8th September 2017.
Watch the trailer for Wind River here: