Ren­ner, Olsen track killer on Na­tive Amer­i­can land

Sun Sentinel Broward Edition - Showtime - Broward - - MOVIES - By Michael Phillips

With the drug car­tel thriller “Si­cario” (2015), the West Texas bank rob­bery yarn “Hell or High Wa­ter” (2016) and the new, Wy­oming-set “Wind River” (2017), screen­writer Taylor Sheri­dan has cre­ated an un­of­fi­cial tril­ogy of crime sto­ries shar­ing an un­stated moral.

It goes like this: Follow the rules in Amer­ica, whether you’re an in­no­cent vic­tim, a charis­matic out­law or a valiant, fre­quently out­matched law en­force­ment of­fi­cial, and you’ll go broke or get killed. Soul­less bu­reau­cracy, eco­nomic de­pri­va­tion and hu­man greed may be bad for the cit­i­zenry but are great for stok­ing a writer’s pulp imag­i­na­tion.

“Wind River” marks Sheri­dan’s fea­ture di­rec­to­rial de­but. The script this time sits a few steps down from “Hell or High Wa­ter,” es­pe­cially, though it’s fairly com­pelling for con­sid­er­able stretches. The movie be­gins on a cold night, with a young woman run­ning across the snow while lines from a poem are spo­ken by a solemn, an­cient-sound­ing Na­tive Amer­i­can with a voice like the wind it­self. This is the woman who be­comes the corpse dis­cov­ered in the snow, miles from any­where, by a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Ser­vice tracker played by Jeremy Ren­ner.

The en­su­ing rape and mur­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion, on Na­tive Amer­i­can land, in­vites a tan­gle of com­pet­ing law en­force­ment of­fi­cials. In from Las Ve­gas, a rookie FBI agent (El­iz­a­beth Olsen) asks the tracker, Cory, to as­sist her in the case. Lo­cal sher­iffs and the Tribal Po­lice chief (Gra­ham Greene) join the in­ves­ti­ga­tion, war­ily.

Like Emily Blunt’s FBI MPAA rat­ing: R (for strong vi­o­lence, a rape, dis­turb­ing images, and lan­guage) Run­ning time: 1:51 agent in “Si­cario,” Olsen’s char­ac­ter in “Wind River” learns as she goes, usu­ally from vaguely or brazenly pa­tron­iz­ing men. The harsh con­di­tions on the Wind River reser­va­tion in­volve meth heads, drug deal­ers and, higher up the moun­tain, petroleum com­pany la­bor­ers whose lives, one man says, are noth­ing but snow and si­lence. Cory’s life, mean­while, is de­fined by grief. Three years ear­lier, we learn, his daugh­ter (best friends with the dead teenager dis­cov­ered in the snow) was mur­dered, with no res­o­lu­tion to the case. Cory shares cus­tody of his son (Tio Bri­ones) with his emo­tion­ally numb ex-wife (Ju­lia Jones), and their son’s bira­cial her­itage is spelled out in an early scene of fa­ther teach­ing son horse­man­ship skills. Af­ter one suc­cess­ful les­son, Bri­ones says: “Pretty cow­boy, huh?” Ren­ner replies, a touch too earnestly: “No, son. That was all Ara­paho.”

“Wind River” is roughly 50 per­cent strengths, 50 per­cent con­trivances. Of­ten they col­lide in the same scene. The most con­spic­u­ous mixed bless­ing of “Wind River” ar­rives in a lengthy, ex­cru­ci­at­ing flash­back se­quence that an­swers all our worst fears re­gard­ing the young woman’s rape and mur­der. It’s skill­fully set up but gru­el­ing, in ways that throw you straight out of the drama rather than in­ten­si­fy­ing it. How much pain do you put an au­di­ence through, and — this is the key — from which per­spec­tives, to dra­ma­tize ap­palling hu­man be­hav­ior? What’s the in­vis­i­ble line be­tween hon­or­able ex­cru­ci­a­tion and mis­judged melo­drama?

Cory is al­most a fully di­men­sional char­ac­ter; he comes off as the spir­i­tual de­scen­dant of the moun­tain man in “Jeremiah John­son” who told Robert Red­ford to keep his nose in the wind and his eyes along the sky­line.

“Luck don’t live out here,” the tracker says. “Luck lives in the city.” Then he keeps go­ing with the metaphor longer than the scene war­rants. Michael Phillips is a Tri­bune critic.

FRED HAYES/WE­IN­STEIN COM­PANY

Jeremy Ren­ner, left, with Gil Birm­ing­ham, plays a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Ser­vice tracker in Taylor Sheri­dan’s film.

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