On the basis of a lengthy list of television acting credits and a pair of outstanding screenplays (Sicario & Hell or High Water) writer/actor Taylor Sheridan (Sons of Anarchy) gets behind the camera here to direct his own script, a thriller set on the desolate Indian reservation in Wyoming that provides the movie’s title. Jeremy Renner stars as a U. S. fish and game employee hired for his skills as a marksman in protecting the reservation’s herds of sheep and wildlife. When he finds the frozen body of a young woman, Renner becomes the focal point of a murder mystery imbued with social commentary about the status of the reservation’s occupants and the Anglo employees of a large oil company with a drilling concession on the reservation.
Sheridan’s script for Hell or High Water, (for which he was nominated for an Oscar) skillfully used a series of bank robberies committed for deliciously-sympathetic reasons to allow its characters to illuminate the often conflicting values of working class Texans facing financial ruin in the real estate collapse of 2008. In Wind River, the writer/director attempts once again to graft telling social commentary on a conventional murder mystery - - with very disappointing results.
Despite authentic locations and an ingenious plot line that allows the audience to identify the guilty parties in real time, Sheridan’s dialogue segues from gruff one-liners to short orations about the depredations Indians face in living their lives within tribal traditions at odds with the dominant American culture. The film’s climax is cold-blooded, and emotionally unsatisfying and bereft of the impact of his previous film.
Sheridan’s to be commended for this earnest attempt to raise audience awareness of the inherent stressfulness of Indian life, but good intentions can’t make up for uninspiring cinematography, dull characters and the pious tone the director employs in his story telling.
The Verdict? Intermittently interesting murder mystery undone by a pervasive tone of cultural indignation.
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