Sunday, 24 September 2017

Wind River by Taylor Sheridan

Newsflash, folks. This is a genuinely wonderful movie, my top film of the year so far, and you should rush out and see it now.

Because, although it's a solid box office success, it's unlikely to be the kind of huge hit which lingers in multiplexes for months.

As soon as I learned of the existence of Wind River, I had a hollow feeling of profound excitement in my stomach — and also a hint of apprehension.

Here's why I was excited... Wind River is written by Taylor Sheridan. 

Sheridan is my screenwriting hero. His first script was Sicario, a magnificent and brutal tale of the drug war across the US/Mexican border. It was the best film of 2015.

His second was Hell or High Water, a beautifully wrought story of brotherly love and bank robbery in a modern day Texas ravaged by corporate greed. It was my top pick of 2016.

This explains the excitement. But why the apprehension? Because that was one heck of a track record to live up to. Two supreme successes. Was a disappointment now in wait? 

Or could Taylor Sheridan possibly pull off three great scripts in a row?

Yes — Yes, yes, yes. 

Wind River begins with the body of a young woman being found on the Wind River Indian Reservation in Wyoming. She has frozen to death while fleeing half-clothed from a sexual assault.

The girl, Natalie (Kelsey Asbille) has been discovered by Cory Lambert (impressively played by Jeremy Renner), a government Fish & Wildlife Agent who specialises in predator control — in other words, a professional hunter, tracker and sniper. 

Corey's special skills become crucial as the story develops. Young FBI agent Jane Banner (the wonderful Elizabeth Olsen) is called in to deal with the case because the FBI has jurisdiction on the reservation.

Naturally, up here in the frozen wilds, our city-girl Fed is a fish out of water. At one point she suggests they should wait for backup. Ben, the tribal police chief (played with sardonic humour by Graham Greene) replies, "This isn't the land of backup, Jane. This is the land of you're on your own."

Nevertheless, Jane begins to learn how to survive in this new and ruthless environment. She teams up with Cory to track down the human predators responsible for Natalie's death, and this superb story develops and unfolds and gradually discloses its secrets.

Taylor Sheridan's writing is wonderful not least because of the research he does and the authentic feel of his stories.
And he understands procedure. Sicario hinged on the fact that Emily Blunt's FBI agent (yes, another one) was needed as a fig leaf for a CIA black ops team — because the CIA can't operate on US soil without the affiliation of a domestic agency.

In Wind River, there's a tense moment when the whole investigation looks it will fall apart because Natalie has died of exposure to the cold rather than being directly killed by a person. And, you see, if it's not homicide, then the FBI can't take the case...

I just love that Taylor Sheridan took the trouble to learn about these facts of procedure — and could see the dramatic potential in them.

Wind River — like Hell or High Water — is a riveting thriller studded with brutal action which is simultaneously a powerful drama of real human beings facing up to the contortions of their lives.

It also features one stupendous flashback sequence which is utterly beautiful in its quiet simplicity, elegance and coherence.

All through the movie I was curious about the identity of the director. Because no script is so good that it can't be spoiled by the wrong director. Whoever made Wind River was obviously the right director, but who was it?

In the modern manner, the credits didn't roll until the end of the film, so I didn't find out the name of the director until then...

Taylor Sheridan. 

Having now turned director Sheridan has clearly learned a lot from his previous films. Two of the actors in Wind River have appeared in earlier Taylor Sheridan scripts — Jon Bernthal was a dubious cop in Sicario and Gil Birmingham played one of the Texas Rangers in Hell or High Water.

The music for this movie is by Nick Cage and Warren Ellis, who also did the soundtrack for Hell or High Water.

And there's a moody helicopter shot of a convoy of vehicles rolling to an uncertain destination which is powerfully reminiscent of the lethal excursion to Juarez in Sicario.

Sheridan has learned from the best, and he just keeps getting better.

There was one thing I disliked about this film, though. At the beginning we see a wolf menacing a flock of sheep.

The wolf is shot dead. It's a bloodily realistic shooting. I stayed until the very end of the movie desperately hoping the credits would say something about "no animals were harmed in the making of this picture."

Nope, they killed the wolf.

(Image credits: A blizzard of cool posters from Imp Awards.)

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