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Review: Wind River (2017)

Directed by: Taylor Sheridan | 111 minutes | crime, drama, thriller | Actors: Elizabeth Olsen, Jeremy Renner, Kelsey Asbille, Julia Jones, Teo Briones, Apesanahkwat, Graham Greene, Tantoo Cardinal, Eric Lange, Gil Birmingham, Althea Sam, Tokala Clifford, Martin Sensmeier, Tyler Laracca, Shayne J. Cullen, Austin R Grant, Ian Bohen, Hugh Dillon, Matthew Del Negro,

If you disappear without a trace one day and are later found lifeless, you better be female, young and white. Anyone who does not fit into that box is given less priority by the investigative units. At least, it is in the United States. Writer and director was shocked when, during the filming of ‘Wind River’ (2017), some leaders of the Shoshone Indian tribe told him that at the time, in a population of just 6,000 people, there were 12 unsolved murders of young women in the reserve. The tribes had been deprived of the right to arrest and bring to justice non-Native American criminals in the late 1970s, even if their criminal activities had taken place in an Indian reservation. If both victim and perpetrator are from outside the tribe, the arrest may only be made by a county or state officer, and if the victim is Indian but the perpetrator is not, only a federally certified agent may make the arrest. If the opposite is the case, a sheriff from the tribe may make the arrest, but the case must still go through the federal court. Because of so many snags, it is impossible for the Native Americans to get the right people under lock and key. Many criminals get away with their crimes as a result. It is high time for Sheridan to draw attention to this twisted situation.

From the first scene of “Wind River” we are right on of our seats: in a poverty-stricken reserve in icy Wyoming, we see a young girl running across the snow plains. Who is she running from? Not much later, Cory Lambert (Jeremy Renner), who as an employee of the organization is engaged in controlling and conserving nature and is in search of the big cats who are after the cattle, discovers the lifeless body of the girl. She – eighteen-year-old Nathalie Hansen (Kelsey Chow) – turns out to have been raped and murdered. It is not long before local authorities intervene. The FBI, in the person of Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen), comes to Wyoming in a fat car from Las Vegas to investigate. She is like a fish out of water in the inhospitable snow landscape and has no idea how to communicate with the locals. Luckily, Cory is there to help her. For even though they differ from each other as day and night, they are still doomed to each other to bring this matter to a successful conclusion. The murdered girl’s parents ( and Tantoo Cardinal) have no idea who could be behind their daughter’s murder. Nathalie’s brother Chip (Martin Sensmeier) turns out not to be such a sweetheart; addicted to drugs, he is the leader of a gang that scares the reservation. He could be leading Cory and Jane to the right culprit …

Sheridan – originally an actor – is the screenwriter of “Sicario” (2015) and “Hell or High Water” (2016), two films that make up his American Frontier trilogy with “Wind River”; dynamic, modern westerns that do not shy away from vigorous action and violence, but also provide sharp insights into pressing social issues in the US. “Wind River” is only his second as a director; nevertheless, there is hardly any uncertainty. Sheridan draws his audience directly into the story, especially with the confronting, grueling and harsh conditions under which the Native Americans live, and the few opportunities they have to escape this situation. He also creates interesting characters. So it turns out that Cory, who is outwardly sober and rock-solid and always tries to do the right thing, carries a desperate past. His own daughter once happened to be much the same as Nathalie Hanson, and the two girls were also friends. The aftermath of that terrible event cost him his marriage. Racer is cut out for this role; the heartbreaking scene in which he tells Jane his personal history is particularly impressive. Sheridan is undoubtedly a fan of the work of Sam Peckinpah and Quentin Tarantino, because especially towards the end of “Wind River” he gives more than a nod to both filmmakers and loses sight of his own craft. Although well executed, it is still a small slip in an otherwise flawless script. Sheridan is also on the right track when it comes to directing, although “Wind River” – the only film he directed himself – is the least of his “American Frontier “trilogy (” Sicario “directed by Denis Villeneuve and” Hell or High Water “by David Mackenzie), because the other two are slightly more balanced.

“Wind River” is a fine piece of writing, an exciting mystery with complex characters, dazzling action and also a powerful social undertone. We’ve rarely seen look this good and is a man we’ll be watching closely for years to come!

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