Sunday, 10 September 2017

Wind River. A simple tale well told.

In 2015 Taylor Sheridan wrote Sicario. It was great, proper hard hitting stuff. In 2016 he wrote Hell Or High Water and hit the bullseye again. Another cracker. In 2017 he wrote and directed Wind River and guess what? It hits the target again. He's good. And I can't wait to see what he comes up with next.

Any way. Wind River.

While tracking a mountain lion in the depths of the Wind River reservation in Wyoming, a wildfire service agent named Cory finds the body of a young Native American woman who has frozen to death in the snow. The FBI sends a solitary agent, Jane Banner, to see if there has been a murder. Together they uncover another in a long line of injustices perpetrated against America's indigenous people.

I thought this was very good. A simple and straight forward drama but one full of depth and told well. From it's bluntly metaphorical opening to its sobering ending it gripped me the whole way through. I do love a good crime drama and this delivers the goods. It's well written (mostly) and well acted by a solid cast. It's populated by characters who you'll actually give a shit about. It's perfectly paced. At 107 minutes it definitely doesn't outstay its welcome. Because its well written we get to know the characters while keeping the story moving forward. Characters are deftly sketched with a few choice words of dialogue. Plus it doesn't feel the need to pad out the story with extraneous subplots which is always refreshing in an era of bloated running times. It's far from the action thriller that trailers have made it out to be but it does contain one absolutely nail biting scene of tension/action. I don't want to ruin it but remember the highway traffic jam scene in Sicario. It's on a par with that. The scenery is pretty stunning too. The snowy vistas of Wind River are wide open and epic but feel oppressive at the same time. People are trapped there by circumstance. We get a snapshot of the modern day life of the people on the reservation. It's a harsh way of living. We also get a glimpse of the ways different cultures deal with loss and grief. 

The acting is pretty damn fine all round. Jeremy Renner as Cory is an actor I've never had much time for. In most of his roles he's about as exciting as a damp cardboard box but he delivers here. He creates a character of great economy. One who cuts through the shite to get things done fast. A man who deals with problems by hitting them in the face with a snow shovel. A tragic past has made him into the man he is today and his motivations are explained in a piece of acting that's probably the best thing he's ever done. Elizabeth Olsen as Jane is good but doesn't have much to work with. A lot of the time she's just standing and listening or observing whats going on. Maybe that's what a good FBI agent does but it doesn't really make for exciting thesping. That said she gets her inexperience as a rookie agent across well and looks believable during the more physical aspects of her role. The two main supporting roles are played by native American actors Graham Green and Gil Bermingham. Both hit the spot. Bermingham who was so good in last years Hell Or High Water is very convincing as a man losing his way in the depths of grief and Green as a Tribal police cop adds a much needed touch of warmth and humour to proceedings.

It's dark stuff. It's going to disturb you in places. The crime itself is horrifying. It's just another in a large list of horror Native Americans have had to suffer. The tribal people we see in modern day American films aren't the proud people we saw in westerns of the past. They are a beat down people with a culture that's been destroyed by White America. The weight of history hovers heavily over every aspect of this film. 

A few problems do arise. It's a bit heavy handed in places and as mentioned already Olsen's character is quite underwritten. Sheridan's previous film Sicario suffered a similar problem with a female character presented as the lead and then unceremoniously shunted to the side. This is an issue I hope he addresses in his next piece of work.

That said I liked this a lot. It's a dark, stark but compelling look at a side of America that's usually ignored. 

One thing though. I can't help but wonder what the film would have been like had the character of Cody been a tribal member. I know Renner is a box office draw and is excellent in the role but with a Native American lead this could have been unique.

Ah well.

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