I wish I hadn’t watched Wind River on a Saturday morning. It’s an evening movie; when it’s over, you can lock your doors, and pray you don’t have nightmares.
As a screenwriter, Taylor Sheridan has given us Hell or High Water, and Sicario – which starred Emily Blunt as an idealistic FBI agent helplessly mixed up with shady alphas Josh Brolin and Benicio Del Toro in the war on drugs.
Working from his own script, Sheridan describes Wind River as his directorial debut (although he is credited on IMDb with 2011’s Vile). Elizabeth Olsen’s Jane Banner is another FBI agent out of her depth, only this time the action has moved away from Sheridan’s native Texas to the wintry wilds of Wyoming.
Jurisdictional matters have pulled Banner in to investigate the death of a teenage girl from a Native American reservation. The victim was found frozen and barefoot in the snowy tundra by Jeremy Renner’s solitary wildlife officer, Cory Lambert – for whom the case has disturbing echoes of his own daughter’s death.
Olsen might be in charge of the investigation, but she needs Lambert for his deep connections to the land and to the dead girl’s marginalized community. There is little backstory to Olsen’s character, who dresses like she should be reading the news in a studio somewhere.
(‘Shouldn’t we just maybe wait for some backup?’ she bats her lashes. ‘This isn’t the land of backup, Jane … this is the land of “you’re on your own.”‘)
Where Sicario’s Kate Macer was trapped at the border by political forces beyond her control, Banner has planted face-first into a world blighted by poverty, addiction and hopelessness. She is the audience proxy, while also standing in as a symbol of governmental disinterest and mishandling.
Sheridan delivers with the same high calibre action scenes as previous directors of his scripts, building tension up to the brutal final gun battle (featuring a brief cameo by Teen Wolf star Ian Bohen – also set to appear in Sicario sequel Soldado). Heads up (or down) if you’re not a fan of vertigo-inducing camerawork.
The film is quieter and remoter than Sicario, a gruesome thriller mixing revenge, testosterone and geopolitics. In the cold, desolate atmosphere, and the silent, grief-frozen male lead, Wind River is tonally slightly reminiscent of Jim Sheridan’s (no relation to Taylor) Manchester by the Sea.
Except it’s a murder mystery, not a character study, or exploration of parental guilt or coping with grief and loss. It’s most hard-hitting when the story is over, and title cards flash up with details about the Indigenous crisis of missing or murdered girls and women.
It’s why the film lingers long past its closing scene. It’s opened a window into a dark, under-reported secret. Reality is unsettling.