Mis­ery abounds

In ‘Wind River’ grief blan­kets a Wy­oming reser­va­tion

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - ENTERTAINMENT - BY JAKE COYLE

For Tay­lor Sheridan, the West is still alive with fron­tier tragedies and genre thrills, even if hope­less­ness has moved in and blan­keted the land.

“Wind River’’ makes it a kind of tril­ogy for Sheridan, the writer be­hind the West Texas neo-Western “Hell or High Wa­ter’’ and the Mex­i­can bor­der drug crime drama “Si­cario.’’ In “Wind River,’’ he shifts to a Wy­oming Na­tive Amer­i­can reser­va­tion and be­hind the cam­era, but the at­mos­phere is still rich and fa­mil­iar: big open spa­ces with mis­ery all around.

Whereas the Os­car-nom­i­nated “Hell or High Wa­ter’’ had a bright, comic punch, “Wind River’’ is more in the heav­ily som­bre reg­is­ter of “Si­cario.’’ When one fa­ther who has lost a daugh­ter con­soles an­other, he ad­vises him to con­front the heartache head-on: “Take the pain.’’ It’s some­thing of a mis­sion state­ment for Sheridan, whose neo-West­erns are filled with deeply bur­dened men mak­ing painful sac­ri­fices.

Sheridan’s lat­est (his sec­ond time di­rect­ing fol­low­ing the lit­tle-seen 2011 hor­ror film “Vile’’) is set around the Wind River Reser­va­tion in a win­tery Wy­oming where, as one char­ac­ter says, “snow and si­lence are the only things that haven’t been taken.’’ The reser­va­tion, shrouded in vi­o­lence, drugs and poverty, is an omi­nous place where Amer­i­can flags wave up­side down.

It’s there that Corey Lam­bert (Jeremy Ren­ner) dis­cov­ers a freshly frozen body five miles into the moun­tains. He is a fish and wildlife agent who spends most of his time de­fend­ing live­stock by shoot­ing preda­tors with a ri­fle. Moun­tain lions nab­bing cat­tle is what brought him, by snow­mo­bile, to the re­mote crime site.

The body, an 18-year-old Na­tive Amer­i­can girl named Natalie (Kelsey As­bille) is bare­foot, de­spite the snow and the cold, and she’s been raped. Her lungs, Lam­bert guesses, even­tu­ally froze and burst as she fled from miles away.

The in­ves­ti­ga­tion, though, is for the FBI. The agency is so thin in ru­ral Wy­oming that it dis­patches an agent from Las Ve­gas: Jane Ban­ner (El­iz­a­beth Olsen) who lacks even a good enough win­ter coat. But Ban­ner quickly shows her strengths and in­tel­li­gently con­scripts Lam­bert, an ex­pe­ri­enced tracker, to aid her. “This isn’t the land of backup,’’ she’s told. “This is the land of you’re on your own.’’

The dead girl is re­vealed to be the daugh­ter of a close friend of Lam­bert’s (Gil Birm­ing­ham). Birm­ing­ham, whose too-brief per­for­mance is one of noble weari­ness, is one of many Na­tive Amer­i­cans who pop­u­late the cast and lend “Wind River’’ both ex­cel­lent act­ing and eth­nic au­then­tic­ity — even if its leads, and thus the story’s point-ofview, are white. When the po­lice visit the fam­ily’s home, they find a bro­ken house­hold. An opened door re­veals the guilt-rid­den mother blood­ily slash­ing at her wrists. The door, bizarrely, is sim­ply closed.

AP PHOTO

In this Jan. 21, 2017 file photo, ac­tor Jeremy Ren­ner, from left, Direc­tor Tay­lor Sheridan, ac­tress El­iz­a­beth Olsen and ac­tress Kelsey As­bille Chow pose for a por­trait to pro­mote the film, “Wind River”, dur­ing the Sun­dance Film Fes­ti­val in Park City, Utah.

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