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USA 2017
Directed by
Taylor Sheridan
107 minutes
Rated MA

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
2.5 stars

Wind River

Synopsis: Cory Lambert (Jeremy Renner), a Wyoming game tracker, stumbles upon the body of a murdered teenage girl frozen in the desolate wilderness of the Wind River Indian Reservation. When rookie FBI agent Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen) is assigned to the case, she enlists Cory’s help.

There are three main elements to Wind River: the rigours of the wintry Wyoming landscape;the fraught relations between White Americans and the descendants of the original Amer-Indian settlers; and a murder mystery.  The first is used very well, commencing with the opening scene which has a bare-foot girl running evidently in fear and collapsing in the snow and then segueing into a sequence which establishes Cory as a man at home in these inhospitable surrounds. The second is a continuous subtext running through the film with aspects which once again inform Cory’s life as he was formerly married to a woman of Amer-Indian descent (Julia Jones) and has had two children with her. This aspect adds depth and a certain degree of novelty to the film’s main axis, the murder mystery, which is handed by Sheridan in his directorial debut with borderline exploitative facileness.

Sheridan wrote the scripts for Sicario (2015) and Hell Or High Water (2016) and Wind River is being passed off as completing a trilogy of films dealing with, literally, life on the borders of American society. It is at best a thematic association binding together three genre films. Certainly there are stylistic elements in common - terse dialogue, hard-boiled characters, bang-bang-you’re-dead shootouts and such like – but this is the weakest of the three films.

Wind River suffers from a case of the over-pretties. Although Renner is a bit of a Mr Potato Head not only does he have a beautiful ex-wife, but Elizabeth Olsen is equally starlet material (Sheridan manages to get her in her underwear and believe me, Marge Gunderson she is not), whilst Natalie (Kelsey Asbille), the teenager we saw running in the snow is also a hottie (Sheridan manages to get her in her underwear, prior to putting her in a brutal rape scene). Even the men, including Natalie’s father (Gil Birmingham) and the male perps are (nearly) all handsome (the one who isn't is saved up for some special punishment).. The local tribal law enforcement (Graham Greene) is about the only person who you’d really expect to see on an Indian reservation. Indeed as much as the Wyoming landscape is an important part of the film one can’t help but feel that Sheridan’s story would have worked much better in an urban environment where the incongruities of context and content would not have impinged so (Sam Raimi fell foul of a similar mis-match with A Simple Plan in 1998).

This ill-fittingness applies to the climactic shoot-out. What Tarantino would have made a meal of,Sheridan lets pass with a kind of diffidence that borders on the risible as everyone starts shooting each other from a few feet away with a remarkable lack of success but with Peckinpah-ish stunt-work.The result is that it feels forced, as if the writer-director was embarrassed by a perceived need to provide an action set-piece.

The film is also dogged by a sub-plot involving Cory’s dead daughter who was a friend of Natalie and was similarly found dead in the snow (for reasons unknown).  What are the chances of that? You might well ask but Sheridan never so much as addresses the matter,

Anyone can hire a good cinematographer so Sheridan gets limited credit for that. His concern with social issues is both commendable and refreshingly novel but precisely because of this Australian audiences, who will immediately see parallels with our own indigenous citizens, will be unlikely to be persuaded by the way in which they are subsumed under the conventions of a middling genre film which is only carried across the line by Renner's quietly intense performance.




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