Monday, July 31, 2017

Wind River: U.S. Fish & Wildlife Hunts a Murderer

The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service closely collaborates with indigenous tribes on conservation efforts, but there are tensions over its administration of the eagle feather permit system. Few people understand the complexity of these relationships better than Fish & Wildlife Agent Cory Lambert. His ex-wife is Native American. They still have a young son, but their teen daughter was murdered under circumstances that make it unlikely the killer will ever be discovered. As a result, Lambert is more than willing to assist a rookie FBI agent investigate the subsequent murder of his daughter’s best friend in Taylor Sheridan’s Wind River (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.

Time has passed, but Lambert has not fully healed. However, he has remained as diligent as ever on the job. When wild predators attack livestock, Lambert is the one called to track them down. He knows the area, so he is the one to take Special Agent Jane Banner to view the freshly discovered body of Natalie Hanson. Unlike most agents called to work murders on Federal land, Banner would like to see some justice done, but she knows she will not get very far without Lambert.

Having reasonably good relations with the Shoshone and Arapaho, Lambert also has better luck getting the locals to talk. That includes Hanson’s distraught father, who extracts a promise from Lambert to use his skills as a hunter as well as a tracker, even if Hanson’s lowlife brother and her outsider boyfriend turn out to be suspects.

Just when you thought American thrillers had given up the ghost, Sheridan bags and tags a heck of a trophy with WR. Best known as the screenwriter of Hell or High Water, Sheridan shows the same flair for cutting dialogue and gritty criminal scenarios. However, the stakes at play in WR run far deeper and darker.

As Lambert, Jeremy Renner rises to the occasion, knocking the wind out of viewers with the downright shocking emotional rawness of his performance. Granted, he is known for his brooding, tightly-wound work, but this raises his game to a whole new level. Frankly, it is hard for Elizabeth Olsen’s Banner to compare head-to-head, but she asserts herself well in the third act action scenes. Of course, it is nice to see Graham Greene do his thing as the tribal police chief. Yet, Jon Bernthal and Kelsey Chow possibly upstage everyone as Hanson and her lover in a surprisingly long and brutal (but absolutely appropriate) flashback sequence.

There is nothing cheap about Sheridan’s narrative. Like Paul Kersey in the original Death Wish, Lambert will have to settle for vicarious payback, if he can track down the person or persons responsible for Hanson’s death. Sheridan and cinematographer Ben Richardson make the most of the frozen locales, creating a snowbound modern western that nicely compliments the East Texas desolation of High Water. Lean, mean, and intensely resonant, Wind River is very highly recommended when it opens this Friday (8/4) in New York and Los Angeles.