Two captions appear during Wind River which are astounding and disturbing. The first appears at the film’s beginning, and tells us that what we are about to see is based on real events. Then at the end we’re told that disappearances of native American women are not recorded in America. There is no way of knowing how many have gone missing simply because no one bothers to keep stats.
This last bit of information makes what has gone before it all the more sobering, as if we weren’t already shaken by what we’ve witnessed.
Wind River is Taylor Sheridan’s final chapter in a loose trilogy the chronicles some pretty harrowing events. Although he wrote the preceeding film’s in the trilogy, the Oscar-nominated Sicario and Hell or High Water, the latest film sees him directing his own screenplay.
It’s set in the Wind River Indian Reservation in Wyoming, an unforgiving landscape at the best of times, but especially in the middle of winter. An 18-year old girl is found dead in the middle of nowhere. Barefoot and badly frostbitten, she’s also been raped.
A young FBI agent, Jane Banner (Elisabeth Olsen) has been flown in to investigate the crime, and from the beginning it’s clear she’s out of her depth. Underdressed for the harsh climate and having no knowledge of the landscape, the culture or the people, she has to rely on the local police to help her connect the dots.
One major snag is that the coroner declares the official cause of death of young Natalie is a pulmonary seizure caused by the cold, despite the fact she’s obviously been attacked. This means that technically Banner can’t call in the FBI because it’s officially not a death caused by homicide.
So, working with a very small local police crew, Banner’s most useful ally is wildlife hunter, Cory (Jeremy Renner). In addition to being an ace tracker, he has a vested interest in the case. His own teenage daughter was killed three years earlier in possibly similar circumstances.
From hereon in, the landscape becomes a lawless environment, no one can be trusted and danger looms at every turn.
This is a mystery thriller, but it’s not just about guessing who dunnit, but trying to come to terms with a sparsely populated society where there is so little respect for the law or for one’s own neighbours. It’s an especially dangerous place for a young woman like Banner to be sticking her neck out.
It’s not often we see films dealing with issues faced by native Americans, and although the two leads in Wind River are indeed white movie stars, at least the film is tackling seldom addressed issues with an earnest determination.
There’s a nordic noir feel to Wind River, and it’s not just because of the snow. Dealing as it does with corruption, abuse of authority and the evil that men do, this is a police procedural that would be right at home in Scandanivia. The only difference being this so pointedly has something to say about the treatment of indigenous people in America.
The rustic score by Aussie pair Nick Cave and Warren Ellis adds a further layer of solemnity to a film steeped in an inexorable air of dread and foreboding. It doesn’t paint a pretty picture, but it’s gripping and urgent nonetheless.
Wind River is currently in national release
Richard Leathem @dickiegee