Sonic Cinema

Sounds, Visions and Insights by Brian Skutle

Wind River

Grade : A Year : 2017 Director : Taylor Sheridan Running Time : 1hr 47min Genre : , ,
Movie review score

Taylor Sheridan is an actor-turned-screenwriter/director. That helps explain a lot about the scripts he has written right out of the gate- the drug war thriller, “Scicario,” and his two efforts as a director, “Hell or High Water” and “Wind River.” These feel like scripts that an actor would want to see and be a part of, with the characters all speaking quite naturally, and the stories having a sense of authenticity as they look at complex, real-life issues with a painful degree of truth. Here, Sheridan looks at missing, or deceased girls, on Indian reservations, and even if it isn’t a subject that we’ve had to deal with personally, the story being told is universal, as the character at the heart of the story, a wildlife tracker played by Jeremy Renner, has lost his daughter, and a crime he’s drawn in to brings him back to those painful memory.

The film begins with a young Native American girl, Natalie (Kelsey Asbille), alone, running in the snow. She falls over dead, signs of violence on her body. Her body will later be found by Renner’s Corey Lambert, a divorced dad who is taking his son, Casey, to visit his grandparents while he goes tracking a pack of lions who have been killing wildlife. It’s on that tracking that he finds Natalie’s body, and when he leads the FBI agent (Elizabeth Olsen) sent to investigate and come back with a cause of death, he finds himself an important part of the case as they try to piece together what happened to Natalie, and who might be involved.

Sheridan delves some into the jurisdictional politics involved in crimes on Native American territory, but it’s more of a footnote than a major part of the film, which focuses on Natalie, and the emotional toll the case takes on Corey, who is reminded of his daughter’s disappearance 6 years ago. There’s a lot of emotional truth in the role of Corey, and it’s Renner’s strongest work since “The Hurt Locker” and “The Town.” The dialogue is intelligent and impactful, and scenes have a purpose beyond just moving the story along- scenes with Natalie’s parents, and their immediate reactions to her death, reveal much about life on the reservation, but also the complexity of human bonds that transcends simply being near the person. This is also reflected in the visuals in Ben Richardson’s snowy cinematography and the evocative score by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis. (On the score, while I appreciate the sense of atmosphere Cave and Ellis brings to film, the sound of their scores rarely feels different from film to film.) Sheridan’s ability to tell the story in a compelling way has grown between “Wind River” and “Hell or High Water,” with a long flashback, expertly placed in this film, telling us what we need to know at an important moment in the story. I hope his storytelling talents will continue to grow with each film we get from him in the future.

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