Hello and welcome to the movie blog of author John DeFrank - FilmZ and Guy Sobriquet Malone - Researcher

Wind River

Wind River

Taylor Sheridan's acting resume started in 1995, but it was two decades before he burst into our consciousness with his writing debut of Sicario, one of the best action films of 2015.  He followed up the very next year with Hell or High Water, another action film set in his native Texas, this time earning an Original Screenplay Oscar nomination.  On top of that, in his debut, Sheridan won Un Certain Regard - Director at the Cannes Film Festival.  Is it any wonder that Guy Malone, Researcher, placed Wind River, Sheridan's latest effort high on our priority list?  Proving great minds think alike, the Weinsteins picked up the rights to this crime thriller.

Cory Lambert (Jeremy Renner), a US Fish and Wildlife agent, picks off wolves who have been preying on local livestock with his sniper rifle.  As he treks back across the frigid Wyoming landscape, he comes across the body of a young Native American woman, barefoot, miles from nowhere.  He calls Ben (Graham Greene), the head of a six-man constabulary assigned to cover the Wind River Reservation, an area the size of Rhode Island.  Suspicious circumstances--the woman was raped and her lungs had burst--brings in the FBI in the person of rookie Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen), sent from the regional office in Las Vegas.

It is at this juncture that a more traditional Western would have forgotten the rigors of FBI training and the resourcefulness of its agents and had the wily tracker (probably John Wayne) carry the little lady, at first stubbornly naive but later worshipfully grateful, to a fitting conclusion and they would live happily ever after.  Sheridan has different ideas, as anyone familiar with his previous work well knows.  Once acclimated, Jane follows her law and order instincts to drive the investigation, but she is a pragmatist; realizing she doesn't know the territory, she enlists Cory to assist.  For his part, the tracker has his own interest in the case.  The deceased woman, Natalie, had been the best friend of his own deceased daughter, so her death cuts doubly deep through his scars.  From here, those expecting a whodunit will be disappointed; there's no challenging trail of clues and red herrings to sift through.  Even as a police procedural, it is overt and heavy-handed; we get a lead, another lead, and a revealing flashback that solves the case.  Wind River does deliver in other ways, though: a tense Mexican standoff, satisfying vengeance, and several unexpected twists on the John Wayne formula.

It also gives us is a window into the lives of forgotten people stuck in picturesque but remote isolation.  Sheridan has something to say, and those accustomed to his writing know his characters tell it in terse remarks, some of which plays out as dry wit, some as frontier working-man wisdom, some a mixture of both.  As such, Graham Greene's supporting lawman was casting made in heaven; his deadpan expression and sidelong glances were made to deliver Sheridan's lines.  Elizabeth Olsen, recently so good as a shallow socialite in Ingrid Goes West is equally effective as an inexperienced but resourceful and decisive FBI agent.

Beyond dialogue, Sheridan, an ombudsman for Native Americans, offers a worldview; he shows their existence as a vast confinement that few successfully escape while many fall into depression, drugs, or lawlessness.  Brought to a personal level, Sheridan's musings play out in a study of souls isolated within and without, and Renner's laconic reflection of that results in his best performance yet.  As one of my partners, Ambrose Woolfinger pointed out to me, the best scene is one of its quietest, and it is at the end.  Cory visits Natalie's father, Martin (Gil Birmingham, a Sheridan favorite), two men bound by the loss of daughters.  In a touching soliloquy, Cory tells Martin he must allow himself to suffer or else he will be robbed of even his memories of Natalie.  It is sage advice, something Cory has yet to accept himself.  As a Native American, Martin knows what Cory means.

7.5 out of 10 on the Entertainment Scale
7.0 out of 10 on an Awards Scale (Wind River is likely to fall short of major awards consideration, but it is a good candidate for Independent Spirit Awards. )


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