Riveting “Wind River” reveals powerful relevancy

As chilling as it suggests “Wind River” is disturbingly brilliant

Taylor Sheridan strikes again. The Oscar nominated screenwriter, best known for writing the screenplays for both “Sicario” (2015) and “Hell or High Water” (2016) returns this time both writing and directing his film “Wind River” and so far, his score is three for three.

After stumbling across the body of a local in the Wyoming wilderness, veteran game tracker Cory Lambert, played by Jeremy Renner, and FBI agent Jane Banner, played by Elizabeth Olsen, look into the mystery surrounding the girls death on a Native American reservation that feels as if it is suffering from the same fate.

The town in Sheridan’s latest tale is itself as much a character as any other. The locals, Renner’s Cory, and the family of the deceased, all have sullen backstories, each carrying the baggage of loss and defeat. There is a constant feeling of unrelenting harshness provided by the snow-covered terrain that enhances the notion of despair and is part of what gives the movie its weight.

It’s ability to depict harshness in such a way that feels authentic, makes each performance more believable and more heartbreaking than the next. Olsen becomes the conduit through which we are introduced to this reality, having come from sunny Las Vegas before her assignment to this case and even sunnier Fort Lauderdale before that.

Consistently throughout the films even pacing, she is forced to face some new facet of truth that every other character in the film either finds unsurprising or expected. The message of the film is clear: life on this reservation and for Native Americans isn’t easy, and often cases such as that of “Wind River” are hardly resolved. Lambert’s own heart-crushing backstory is proof enough of that.

The spectacular writing of this film is what gives it the feeling of reading a murder mystery, not to mention its haunting sense of realism. Sheridan’s dialogue is deep and meaningful, while never bogged down by monologues or cheesy one-liners. Each line explores more of the depth of emotion felt by this cast of well-rounded characters, even though the characters never reveal outbursts of overwhelming emotion themselves.

Towards the film’s ending, the audience is given its most disturbing moments when the events leading to the deceased’s untimely death are revealed in full. It’s a hard moment to watch no matter how you slice it without ever feeling intended for shock value.

Again its goal is simple: to shine a light on a reality that is more painful than anyone would like to admit.

As well done as the story is executed, there are hiccups that detract from its full impact, chief among them being Renner’s character.

While it is true Lambert has his reasons for being involved in the story, there are moments where his character feels out of place, especially on a Native American reservation among a mostly Native American cast.

Props to the film for calling this out in its own way during a confrontation in the back of a police truck, but there are times when viewing where one can’t help wonder why there is another white savior? Certainly it might make sense for the girl’s father to be the one knocking down doors to uncover the secrets behind her death?

The other issue, although slight but worth bringing up, is that this film has moments where it feels more like a snowier version of “Sicario.” With the films gorgeous cinematography and wonderful execution of setting, it’s easy to glance over the fact that “Sicario” also happened to take place in a harsh environment with an even harsher society, but alas, it is still there.

What makes this film stand out from its predecessor, however, is its message left even more chilling in the wake of the films climax.

Before fading to black and watching the credits role, the audience sees two sets of text over the fathers who have experienced so much loss. Simple sentences state that while the events of “Wind River” are fictional, the reality for young Native American women is all too true: too many disappear and too many are never found.

In the day and age where the Hollywood Blockbuster reigns supreme and it is up to the indie film to carry the weight of creating impactful cinema, “Wind River” doesn’t slack on its duties. It is both a triumph of riveting writing and excellent directorial skill that doesn’t leave audiences trying to hint at its meaning, as its relevance is all too important.

Overall score: 4.5/5

Reach the reporter at balnero13@gmail.com or follow @BaldnerOwen on Twitter.

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