Sometimes we find stories as beautiful as cruel and sad, like this 2017 movie I have long wanted to recommend, Wind River.
This modern crime Western takes place in the cold lands of Wyoming, a place where time seems forever frozen as the merciless mountain peaks rise above the immense forests.
Yet in these vast moors of nothingness, where the population seems nonexistent, crimes often remain unspoken, as is the case with Natalie Hanson, an 18-year-old Native girl whose dead body is found by hunter Cory Lambert.
She was a close friend of his daughter, who also died in a tragic accident long before, so Cory promises her father that he will do anything to make the perpetrators pay for what they did.
Meanwhile, FBI agent Jane Banner, young and still inexperienced but generous and willing in her determination to uncover the killers, arrives to follow the case.
Indeed, medical examination confirms several men raped Natalie before she was able to escape, wandering for miles before dying from the cold.
However, the FBI refuses to send more agents to help, considering the case to be an accidental death from natural causes, so Jane and Cory begin investigating on their own between the victim’s friendships and boyfriend.
Wind River’s few police forces, led by Sheriff Ben Shoyo, try to help as they go from house to house in this closed, silent community that is tough on strangers and law enforcement officers.
Except the truth awaits them all in a much more remote and unexpected place, where once again, they will knock on a closed door, but this time a flashback will answer, showing us what really happened.
Wyoming’s unlucky deers
We shiver not only from the cold as we enter the wastelands of Wyoming (although filming actually took place in Utah) with a majestically paced, meditative story that deeply explores the psyche of its protagonists, fortunately, more with images than dialogue.
A raw and primitive frontier life on the edge of progress and modern society that we could sum up in the words of Jeremy Renner in what is the most brilliant performance of his career:
Wolves don’t kill unlucky deer; they kill the weak ones.
So the story becomes a symbolic dance between predator and victim, highlighting that total isolation can erode the mind to the point of vandalizing the sacred connection to land and family in a place where morality seems to vanish in the face of such alienation.
Against this backdrop, in its pristine white snow, hides the shadows of a neglected community confined to reservations, the last witnesses of a culture that colonial expansion almost wiped out, now headed for an uncertain destiny devoid of dignity and hope.
Through a bold and thought-provoking narrative, the film highlights the backwardness and stagnation of a part of America we rarely see on the big screen.
Sheridan, with mastery, does not indulge in over-explaining in his icy script, challenging us viewers to interpret and infer from what unfolds before their eyes until he leads us to the skillful editing game that alternates present and flashbacks toward a bloody climax with no hope for anyone, cop or criminal, finally revealing the dark heart of the mystery.
The silent revenge of white snow
As I have already said, I was astounded at the performance of Jeremy Renner, whom before this 2017 movie I regarded as one of many cinematic heroes, but in Wind River, he changes direction to a much more complex and multifaceted role.
Playing the silent and contrite hunter Cory Lambert, Renner embodies the drama of friend to the victim’s father while simultaneously reliving the pain of losing his daughter, who accidentally disappeared in this unforgiving land.
In addition to the excellent dark soul enveloping the character, however, there are also some good fight performances, such as the wild shootout in the finale, where Renner returns as deadly as he was in Avengers, and Sheridan also proves he can shoot some exciting action sequences, although obviously, this is not the heart of this movie.
The only moments where Renner’s icy armor seems to melt and next to the warmth of the beautiful Elizabeth Olsen, here playing the FBI’s rookie, the naive and idealistic Jane Banner.
However, naive doesn’t mean weak or helpless, as the men discover when this girl is the only one surviving the ruthless standoff that ends in carnage, proving that women can be tough has old gunslingers.
Needless to mention again, the centuries of Native tradition we read on the tired and wise face of Graham Greene, who, from Dances with Wolves to the present day, has not lost any of his great expressive power and dignity.
The actor perfectly embodies a wise older man who already imagines what has happened before he knows for sure, even before we, viewers, will finally see the ominous truth in the brutal revelation with the hapless pair of lovers of the handsome Kelsey Asbille and the consistently solid Jon Bernthal.