By Jake Myers
Well, it’s cold outside, so why not grab your favorite “Star Wars” cuddle blanket, turn on the fireplace and watch a movie featuring white, frozen and desolate landscapes, and penetrating cold. No, I’m not talking about John Carpenter’s “The Thing” (1982), although I do highly recommend it.
I am talking about the movie “Wind River” (2017) written and directed by Taylor Sheridan. Sheridan also wrote “Hell or High Water” (2016) and “Sicario” (2015). The man is on a roll. Incidentally, this is his directorial debut, and I have to say I think it is a modern, chilling masterpiece that should be up for Oscar consideration.
This poignant movie is “inspired by actual events” which makes it even more haunting. Not in a supernatural way, but a humanly haunting way. The film takes place in and around the Wind River Indian Reservation in Wyoming. The story follows Cory Lambert, a Fish and Wildlife Officer (Jeremy Renner), who is sent to kill wolves attacking a herd of sheep in the mountains.
He is the resident “predator hunter.” Cory’s next job is to track a lion, but he ends up tracking virtually everything else. He finds the body of an 18-year-old Native American, and her story unfolds as Cory assists FBI agent Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen) on the case. This movie is filled with foreshadowing, metaphors and cool graphic matches. It is begging to be shown in a film class, but don’t let this sway you; it is a really good movie. It is visually breathtaking, even though the film goes to some dark places.
The characters are engrossing. Gil Birmingham is excellent as Martin, the father of the girl who is found dead. Incidentally, Birmingham was also excellent in “Hell Or High Water” as Alberto. The cast also includes Graham Greene as the sheriff of Wind River, and Jon Bernthal of “The Walking Dead” and “Punisher” fame. Jeremy Renner’s character was written for him. His character shows the most development throughout the film, and he nails it.
Elizabeth Olsen reminded me of Jodie Foster in “The Silence of the Lambs” (1991). Her character is called up to handle a case she is not prepared for. Jane shows up during a spring snowstorm, fresh from a conference in Vegas, hailing from Florida. She is ill-prepared for the weather, the case and the humanity of the situation.
As with “Hell or High Water,” this movie deals with Native American relations and so much more. It is not condescending; it is a realistic glimpse into life on a reservation. The environment is a character in this film: predators, frigid cold and relentless wind. Welcome to Wyoming.
The opening scene is riveting. It starts as a black screen with a soft, female voice saying:
“There is a meadow in my perfect world where wind dances the branches of the tree, casting leopard spots of light across the face of the pond. The tree stands tall and grand and alone.”
At the words, “tall and grand and alone,” the opening scene fades in as a girl runs across a desolate snow-covered valley. There is no music just the sound of the wind and the girl running. The voice goes on: “Shading the world beneath it. It is here in the cradle of all I hold dear …”
The camera cuts to a flock of sheep being stalked by large wolves. The music is foreboding as they size up the herd to pick out the weakest, and this is a metaphor for the rest of the movie. It is a Man vs. Nature, Man vs. Man, and Man vs. Self tale. The music for “Wind River” was composed by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis. As Cory crosses onto the reservation, the music is eerie. There is a storm brewing.
The music starts back up again when Cory sees lion tracks for the first time. It stops. This is the best use of diegetic sound I have heard in a film, and it is used throughout. As he sets out on a snowmobile, the music starts again and turns into a wail, but more mournful. You can faintly hear a Native American voice reciting a poem over and over. It is captivating.
“Far from your loving eyes in a place where winter never comes, far from your loving eyes on the mountain wind I run. And I return to this place and close my eyes again.”
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