Directed by Taylor Sheridan
American actor-turned-director, Taylor Sheridan, gives good indications of his filmmaking qualifications in his sophomore feature, “Wind River”. He’s also a competent screenwriter, author of above-the-average crime thrillers such as “Sicario” and “Hell or High Water”.
His new film, a gorgeously photographed neo-western revenge thriller set in the glacial Wind River Indian Reservation, Wyoming, stars Jeremy Renner and Elizabeth Olsen as Cory Lambert, a federal wildlife officer, and Jane Banner, an extraneous FBI agent in town, respectively. The two meet in the sequence of the intriguing death of an 18-year-old Native American woman, found completely frozen in the snow, barefoot, and with the mouth covered in blood.
Without hesitation, Cory, who found the body, undertakes the mission of helping Jane deciphering the mystery. Besides knowing the victim’s father well, to whom he promised justice, he also had lost his own daughter three years before because of the bitter cold. The incident turned his life upside down and the unbearable pain caused him and his wife to split up.
The autopsy reveals that the young woman was raped multiple times while the blood in her mouth was caused by inhalation of the sub-zero air, which means she was desperately running from someone or something when the temperature was around -20ºF.
Her missing new boyfriend, Matt (Jon Bernthal), was immediately appointed as the prime suspect, but his dead body was also found in the snow a few days later.
Jane, struggling to understand the dynamics of the locals, as well as their behaviors, decides to gather her team and head toward the oil drilling camp where Matt was working, in an attempt to find something in his trailer and obtain more information from his co-workers.
While the painful truth is revealed to us through flashbacks, a wild shooting puts Jane in danger.
After the culprit has been identified, Cory will chase him mercilessly as he always does when a wild predator is in the vicinity. He knows he has two options to deal with the case: to follow legal procedures and hand him over to the authorities, or opt for a totally different type of law, commonly known as ‘an eye for an eye’.
Sheridan’s ambition is perhaps a bit too uphill, yet, even if you won’t have your jaw dropping with the revelations, the storytelling delivers more positive than negative aspects. Unlike “Hell or High Water”, this is not a masterpiece but rather a solid, well-mounted film supported by a plausible story that raises moral questions.
On the technical side, I could only discern benefits when one looks at the impressive efforts developed by editor Gary Roach (“Gran Torino”; “Prisoners”), cinematographer Ben Richardson (“Beasts of the Southern Wild”), and the outstanding team of composers and longtime collaborators, Nick Cave and Warren Ellis, who effectively designed eerie drones and vibes to work in consonance with chants and whispered words.
At the end, we have an eye-opening statement on the screen saying that only Native American women are not included in the missing persons statistics. The number of cases related to this ethnic group remains unknown.