Saturday 30 September 2017

Movie Review: Wind River (2017)

A crime mystery drama set in a grim and hostile rustic environment, Wind River derives portentous energy from human emotional resilience wilting under the pressure of nature's relentless hostility.

In snow-covered rural Wyoming, Cory Lambert (Jeremy Renner) is a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agent based in the small town of Lander. An expert tracker and hunter, Cory is divorced from Wilma (Julia Jones), whose parents still live on the Wind River Indian Reservation. Their marriage never recovered from the death of their daughter Emily. While out tracking killer mountain lions on the reservation, Cory stumbles onto the dead body of Natalie Hanson (Kelsey Chow), the young woman having frozen to death after attempting to flee a rape. Natalie used to be Emily's best friend.

The FBI send inexperienced agent Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen) to investigate. She teams up with Cory and tribal police chief Ben (Graham Greene), while Cory also tries to console Natalie's father Martin (Gil Birmingham). The investigation leads to Natalie's brother Chip (Martin Sensmeier), who has fallen in with a group of drug dealers, and the revelation that Natalie was in a relationship with a man called Matt Rayburn (Jon Bernthal), who worked as a security guard at a nearby oil rig site.

Directed and written by Taylor Sheridan, Wind River is exhilarating and yet almost physically exhausting to watch. With a bleak setting where the unforgiving snow and bitter cold boost the prevalent economic misery, this is a film where nature is a visible force, and humans are pushed to the limit just to survive. Thriving is not an option.

It's no surprise that all the characters are scarred, grieving or hiding emotional turmoil. The film features no smiles, humour or irony, just a continuous battle to mentally and physically keep up. Cory Lambert is a robust character, played by an excellent Jeremy Renner as a throwback to western heroes, carrying no illusions and at peace with the laws of the land dictating what must survive and what must be killed. He is an ideal partner for the capable but unseasoned FBI agent Banner, but Natalie's death also strikes too close to home for Cory: his own daughter Emily's unresolved demise remains a clear source of fragility.

Despite Sheridan's tight command of storytelling, the film does shortchange the backstory of the main antagonist. But otherwise Sheridan adopts slow and sure-footed pacing, building up the drama through the harsh landscapes and the hurt behind the characters' eyes, keeping most of the actual agony off the screen  As the second half unfolds the threat of violence slowly but surely increases until the action explodes in successive orgies of expertly-executed mayhem.

Wind River is inspired by the high rate of missing and murdered aboriginal women, cases that often go unreported or unsolved. The film is suitably grim and a high evocative tribute to numerous shamefully forgotten victims.

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