“Snow covers an endless plain on a moonless night.” An image so stark and specific, that one small line places us right in the space being described. Imagine an endless plain of snow, cold and doubt, a freezing night without the moon to guide our way. Already, our bones are chilled. This is where Taylor Sheridan’s Wind River begins.
The film follows a local hunter, Cory Lambert (Jeremy Renner) against the backdrop of the unending brisk Wyoming’s winter as he aids an FBI agent to solve a young woman’s murder. The agent, Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen) clearly doesn’t fit in along this terrain, brushing the snow off her heels and quickly admitting she doesn’t have any snow gear. Throughout the film, the question of who belongs is a steady theme. Our protagonist, a white man married to a Native woman, has gained the respect of the locals on the reservation, and yet in a time of high stress, he’s still called out for having “nothing native about him.”
The schism between those who belong and those who don’t echoes tones of colonial discomfort, as Jane is trying to press her way into this community to help. We feel her genuine concern and strive to solve this murder, but she finds difficulty navigating a nearly foreign terrain. The existing racial tension against the backdrop of Sheridan’s magnificent wide-angle shots of the frigid and empty Wyoming wilderness provide a commentary on the abandoned-nature of Native American people in America. Jane is constantly shocked when she cannot get the help she needs to solve this murder, and the Native police chief quickly reminds her “we’re used to not having help here.” One of the film’s first scenes shows a standoff between a wolf and a herd of sheep. As the wolf approaches to kill his prey, we see Lambert shoot him dead, showing that in a game of predator and prey, the hunting man will always win.
Sheridan styles the film as a typical noir with chilling moments of thrill and terror, and an excellent ‘standoff’ scene that’ll have your heart racing. But among this intrigue, the film has a great deal of heart. We enter into the families of those who have lost children and experience their anguish. Sheridan gives us a film that we can engage with critically, but you’re guaranteed to lose yourself in the mystery.
Image: Courtesy of The Weinstein Company