HIGH WATER MARK
Wind River promises to be a most unexpected directorial debut
AT FIRST GLANCE, Wind River seems like just another FBI procedural, the story of a young girl found dead in suspicious circumstances. But director Taylor Sheridan’s debut feature — following his award-nominated screenplays for Sicario and Hell Or High Water — is anything but. Set on an Indian reservation where outsiders can’t be trusted and the US government offers little more than a shrug, this is pulp fiction drawn from hard political fact.
“It’s inspired by multiple true events,” reveals Sheridan. “I was on a reservation 20 years ago,” he recalls of the event closest to home, “camping with some buddies, and this [Native American] girl had disappeared. She was captain of the basketball team, she had a scholarship to college, she was a leader, a warrior… and she was gone. Just gone. And as tragic as that was, no-one was surprised, because it’s that common.”
While Wind River has racism and discrimination in its sights, Sheridan balances those heavyweight themes with the thrill of the chase. His delicate blend of social critique and story — Jeremy Renner’s maverick game hunter and Elizabeth Olsen’s FBI agent team up to solve the mystery of a girl’s death in Wyoming’s Wind River Reservation — has a fittingly hard-hitting antecedent. “I’ve always said that the greatest movie ever made would be Michael Mann’s The Insider with a gunfight,” he says. “He builds so much tension through arguments about non-disclosure agreements, he makes it feel like you are going to die if someone violates that agreement. At the same time, it’s about the failure of the news system. It matters, [and] I try to make movies that matter too.”
The decision to direct, he explains, was made grudgingly. “I’d much prefer not to,” he laughs. “I love sitting in my cabin in the woods, writing, having a glass of wine. Then I hit send, it goes away, and someone sends me a cheque.” But while Sicario and Hell Or High Water were so impressively translated from page to screen by Denis Villeneuve and David Mackenzie respectively, he felt that this story needed him behind the camera. “I just didn’t trust that I could get that lucky a third time,” he says.
It was important, he stresses, to get this story about the Native American community right. “Could someone else have directed this film better?” he asks. “I’m certain. But at least I can look those guys in the eye and say, ‘Hey man, I told your story the way I said I would. I kept my word.’ And that mattered to me the most.”
WIND RIVER IS IN CINEMAS FROM 8 SEPTEMBER
FBI agent Jane (Elizabeth Olsen).
Below: Olsen with director Taylor Sheridan.