FILM OF THE WEEK
WIND RIVER (15, 107 mins) Thriller/Action/Romance. Jeremy Renner, Elizabeth Olsen, Graham Greene, Gil Birmingham, Kelsey Chow, Jon Bernthal, Julia Jones, Teo Briones, Martin Sensmeier. Director: Taylor Sheridan.
Released: September 8 (UK & Ireland)
Justice is blind and frost-bitten in Wind River, an impeccably crafted thriller set on a snow-laden Indian reservation, where the murder of a teenager sends a chill through a community riven by bigotry and fear.
Taylor Sheridan, Oscar-nominated screenwriter of Hell Or High Water and Sicario, returns to the director’s chair for a high-stakes game of cat and mouse in unforgiving terrain.
Working from his own lean script, he vividly brings to life clashes of culture and ideals, punctuated by pulse-quickening scenes of carnage that expose the ugly reality of race relations in present-day America.
As Sheridan makes uncomfortably clear at the end of his film, the Department of Justice does not collate statistics on the number of Native American women who vanish every year.
Horrors depicted on screen with cool, clinical detachment could be based on hundreds, perhaps thousands of unreported true stories.
The writer-director thaws out our emotional response to his material with powerhouse performances from Jeremy Renner and Elizabeth Olsen as lawmakers from different worlds, united in quivering indignation.
Both actors rise magnificently to the challenge of plucking heartstrings in gruelling conditions, interspersed with the adrenaline-pumping action of two blood-spattered shootouts.
Cory Lambert (Renner) works as a tracker for the US Fish and Wildlife Service on the Wind River Indian Reservation in Wyoming, where he hunts predators that threaten livestock.
During one sortie into the wilderness, Cory stumbles upon the frozen body of 18-year-old Natalie Hanson (Kelsey Chow).
She has been sexually assaulted and rookie FBI agent Jane Banner (Olsen) arrives soon after from the Las Vegas office to take charge of the investigation.
“How far do you think someone could run barefoot out here?” she asks, ill-prepared for sub-zero temperatures.
“How do you gauge someone’s will to live, especially in these conditions?” responds Cory.
The lawmakers join forces with tribal police chief Ben (Graham Greene) to unmask the culprit and dole out justice on behalf of the victim’s grief-stricken father (Gil Birmingham).
A haphazard array of evidence implicates Natalie’s wastrel brother Chip (Martin Sensmeier) and her boyfriend Matt (Jon Bernthal).
Meanwhile, Cory is haunted by a tragedy closer to home and the devastating impact on his wife Wilma (Julia Jones) and young son, Casey (Teo Briones).
Wind River is a survival thriller of the fittest, photographed against breathtaking backdrops described by one wise character as “the land of You’re On Your Own”.
The central police investigation unfurls with quiet urgency, reflected in the slow-burning intensity of performances from a superb ensemble cast.
Violence is used sparingly in a serpentine narrative that stylishly knots together present and past, including two stylistic nods to the Silence Of The Lambs.
Thankfully, fava beans and Chianti are not on Sheridan’s menu.
Instead, he serves up just desserts, ice cold.