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Wind River - Review

Wind River

Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 4 out of 5

HAVING penned the screenplays for the excellent Sicario and Hell Or High Water, Taylor Sheridan now turns his hand to writing and directing in Wind River, the riveting third part of his so-called ‘Frontier trilogy’.

Taking its inspiration from several grim statistics, the film functions as both a first rate thriller and the type of movie that highlights an American social injustice while posing serious questions for anyone willing to listen.

The primary statistic in question is that while missing person statistics are compiled for every other demographic in the US, none exist for Native American women.

Worse, incidences of rape and sexual assault against American Indian women occur at four times the national average, according to research uncovered by The New York Times.

Wind River confronts the repercussions of this for both victims and loved ones. It picks up as the body of a teenage American Indian girl is found amid the frozen wastelands of the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming. The victim had been raped and murdered.

Leading the hunt for the men responsible is fish-out-of-water FBI agent Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen), who enlists the help of professional animal tracker Cory Lambert (Jeremy Renner). For both, the case becomes increasingly personal.

Lambert, in particular, is a man still coming to terms with the loss of his own daughter, whose death has never been fully explained. Hence, the hunt for the latest perpetrators offers him the chance to right a wrong.

Banner, meanwhile, must confront the grim reality of life on the reservation, as well as being a lone female in a predominantly male environment. The case, for her, is a wake-up call and a coming of age journey combined.

It’s one of the big positives to emerge from Sheridan’s film that the story pays as much attention to the characters as it does the case at hand. Hence, audiences can become emotionally invested in the journey of its leading duo, while gripped by the various twists and turns the case takes them on.

Sheridan, for his part, keeps the action muscular and exciting, having clearly learned many lessons from the likes of Denis Villeneuve and David Mackenzie, who brought the screenplays for Sicario and Hell or High Water to the screen. There is a sustained sense of danger that’s as much posed by the elements as it is by the people involved in the case… several of the set pieces emerge quickly and violently.

Yet far from being a testosterone-driven film, Wind River affords its characters moments of pause that uncover a surprising sensitivity. Lambert’s journey, for instance, sees him struggling with loss and notions of revenge, while his bond with Gil Birmingham’s Native American Indian (the father of the victim) is genuinely affecting in the way that it also strips down male stereotypes (and particularly those of the once proud Native American male). Birmingham, for his part, is excellent too.

It’s just a shame that Sheridan’s direction lets itself down in one key moment, which is his decision to belatedly show the actual rape and murder itself. For a writer of Sheridan’s quality, who has already gone to great lengths to convey how brutal the crime was, the inclusion of such an extended scene feels cheap and unnecessary.

Indeed, it raises its own questions about the current need for both TV and film to show violence at its most extreme, especially that which is directed towards women (and even more so if it’s of a sexual nature). Wind River would have been no less effective for having left the act of the crime itself to viewers’ imaginations.

That criticism aside, Sheridan still deserves a lot of praise for crafting such a gripping film: one that has plenty to say on a social level, while offering a superb genre piece that only enhances his reputation as one of the most intelligent and exciting filmmakers of his generation.

Certificate: 15
Running time: 111mins
UK Release Date: September 8, 2017