Wind River

Review by Elena Lazic @elazic

Directed by

Taylor Sheridan

Starring

Elizabeth Olsen Jeremy Renner Kelsey Asbille

Anticipation.

Sicario and Hell or High Water were not perfect, but this could be special with Taylor Sheridan directing.

Enjoyment.

Some powerful moments, but also misguided ones that leave a sour aftertaste.

In Retrospect.

A terrible shame to use such an interesting setting for such a conventional story.

Sicario screenwriter Taylor Sheridan helms this icy crime drama set on a Native American reservation.

The third film written by Taylor Sheridan consolidates recurring themes, images and obsessions into a distinctive personal voice. Yet Wind River, the only one that Sheridan also directed himself, might be the dullest of the three. As with the previous two features, this one follows a duo of cops working in a specific territory with its own rules, people and conventions. In Sicario, it was the Texan border with Mexico; in Hell or High Water, West Texas. Here, the setting is the Wind River Indian Reservation.

There is something immediately exciting about watching a film taking place in a relatively underrepresented and unfamiliar location. By law, Indian reservations are isolated from the rest of America. They are not managed by state government, but rather by the Native American tribes who live within them. These tribes in turn answer to a federal government agency, the US Bureau of Indian Affairs. It is because of this unusual status that when a young woman is discovered murdered on the reservation, an FBI agent is sent to investigate, rather than a traditional police detective.

It would have been interesting and original to follow Elizabeth Olsen’s Jane Banner, the young agent straight out of sunny Los Angeles, as she navigates this unknown and unforgiving land. But Sheridan instead opts for a more common and uncomfortable formula, pairing the rookie agent with a local white man. In fact, Banner’s presence only serves to highlight the expertise of Jeremy Renner’s Cory Lambert, a US Fish and Wildlife Service agent who serves as guide to the young woman, and thus practically leads the investigation.

Not content with simply reproducing the sexist dynamic between Emily Blunt’s idealistic FBI agent and Josh Brolin’s pragmatic CIA operative from Sicario, Sheridan also makes Lambert into a ‘white saviour’ figure, summarily stripping both Banner and the Native American locals of any real agency in the action. The film attempts to rid itself of this awkwardness by framing Lambert as a stoic hero stuck between the white and Native American worlds. But giving him such a rich history results in an even stronger imbalance: a particularly uncomfortable scene has him deliver a lengthy monologue about grief to the father of the murder victim, as though a white man could somehow have more experience with loss than a Native American person.

Wind River peaks with its pre-credit sequence, in which it still seems as though Sheridan is taking into consideration the poetic potential and dramatic weight of the landscape, its specific history and inhabitants. Yet as the film progresses, Sheridan strips away everything that initially makes it so distinctive, adding artificially dramatic moments and tension that feel tired and irrelevant to life on the Reservation. In much the same way that Sicario feels empty on closer inspection – having ultimately very little to do with the situation of drug cartels at the Mexican border – the Indian Reservation in Wind River is cheaply used as a shortcut to drama, but never actually comes alive.

Published 6 Sep 2017

Tags: Elizabeth Olsen Jeremy Renner Taylor Sheridan

Anticipation.

Sicario and Hell or High Water were not perfect, but this could be special with Taylor Sheridan directing.

Enjoyment.

Some powerful moments, but also misguided ones that leave a sour aftertaste.

In Retrospect.

A terrible shame to use such an interesting setting for such a conventional story.

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