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‘Wind River’ stuns in portrayal of Native American murder investigation

By Zachary Sosland

Section: Arts

August 25, 2017

“Wind River” is the directorial debut of Taylor Sheridan, the screenwriter of “Sicario” and “Hell or High Water.” The film revolves around a local game tracker named Cory Lambert (Jeremy Renner) who must work with a rookie FBI agent named Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen) to solve a murder that occurred on a Native American reservation in Wyoming. I loved the last two movies that Sheridan wrote and was excited to see what he would do behind the camera. Upon finally seeing the movie, I can safely say that “Wind River” is another exceptional summer indie worth seeing.

On a technical level, this film is mostly amazing. Ben Richardson’s stunning cinematography brings out the snowy, rural landscapes of Wyoming and makes this location feel as if it’s a character. For a first-time director, Sheridan knows how to inject suspense into the scenes that need it, with help from editor Gary Roach, especially one in a meth house. The camera is unnecessarily shaky during a few scenes, but it’s not a constant throughout the film. Additionally, Nick Cave and Warren Ellis craft a somber musical score that adds to the film’s feeling of isolation.

The characters and performances are also worth mentioning. Jeremy Renner excels as the stoic protagonist who’s haunted by a past tragedy, which gives more weight to the story. One scene in particular where Cory comforts Martin Hanson (Gil Birmingham), the father of the murdered woman, stands out because it shows how well he knows this reservation and its people. After impressing me in “Ingrid Goes West,” Elizabeth Olsen delivers yet another great performance this year. Jane first arrives in the Wind River reservation from the FBI office in Las Vegas and is unprepared for cold climate, demonstrating her naiveté. In many ways, Jane represents us as an audience because despite her determination to solve this case, she seems inexperienced with an environment that’s so close yet so far. That distinct dynamic between the two main leads is what truly carries this film.

Sheridan proves once again why he’s one of the best screenwriters working today. Where “Sicario” deals with the war on drugs and “Hell or High Water” deals with post-Recession America, “Wind River” shines light on the hardships that many Native Americans face. Sheridan handles this subject respectfully and the film never once feels manipulative. Similar to his last two produced screenplays, “Wind River” takes its time in making us care about the characters. Aside from one or two moments, the pacing is mostly seamless at a 107-minute runtime. And anyone looking for a feel-good movie will need to look somewhere else.

“Wind River” doesn’t stick with me the same way that “Sicario” and “Hell or High Water” did, but it’s still great nonetheless. It’s a stellar directorial debut with compelling characters and evocative commentary on Native American reservations. Between this film and “Detroit,” awards season is coming early this year.

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