August 29, 2017 -- This modern day Western, set in Wyoming, seethes with anger and erupts into white hot violence in a flash. It is an unforgiving story set in an unforgiving place, Wyoming's Wind River Reservation (Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho tribes, over 3,500 square miles) where dreams die hard. Anchored by powerful performances and a smart, heartfelt screenplay, this is one of the year's best films so far.
While this movie isn't the typical Hollywood treatment of Wyoming, it is still a Hollywood version of Wyoming (filmed in Utah, but at least not in Canada). Even so, this film still conveys a sense of authenticity about its subject matter, and it doesn't even need the tag line “Inspired by true events.” Therein lies the tragedy.
The two key figures in this story are Jane Banner (played by Elizabeth Olson of “Martha Marcy May Marlene,” an FBI agent assigned to investigate a suspicious death on the Wind River reservation, and Cory Lambert (Jeremy Renner of “Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation” and the “Avengers” movies) a U.S. Game and Fish hunter with family ties to the people on the reservation. Lambert finds the body of the murder victim while hunting.
Jane is clearly out of her element on the reservation, as unprepared for the harsh cold weather as she is for the seething anger of the people she is trying to deal with. She is the very embodiment of the FBI's indifference to what goes on at the reservation. She explains that the only reason she is on the case is that she was the closest agent at the time the call came in.
Jane's interview with Martin, the father of the murdered girl (played by Gil Birmingham of “Hell or High Water”) is a disaster. Martin's anger at her clueless approach to the interview is so hot it practically burns a hole in the screen. This is followed closely by Martin breaking down, out of sight of Jane, in a display terrible sorrow and remorse.
Jane is smart enough to know that she cannot solve this case without help, so she asks for Cory's help, and he agrees, but it is not clear why at first. It certainly isn't his job. Cory's motivation to solve this case becomes very clear later. Of all the characters in the film, Cory is the one constructed most carefully and deeply. Renner does a wonderful job with this leading role, displaying great depth, sorrow, intensity and determination.
In a somewhat jarring flashback scene, we see the murder victim, Natalie Hanson (Kelsey Asbille of “The Amazing Spider-Man”) and her boyfriend (played by Jon Bernthal of “The Punisher” series). Bernthal makes the most of his brief appearance in the film. We also see Natalie in another brief scene at the beginning of the film. The world weary tribal cop investigating this same case is played impeccably by veteran actor Graham Greene (“Thunderheart”).
Writer/director Taylor Sheridan (he received an Oscar nomination for his wonderful “Hell or High Water” screenplay) has a real gift for writing screenplays and dialog. The dialog in this film is spare, concise and powerful. When the action happens, it strikes like a thunderbolt. This violence is an deadly expression of the rage seen earlier in the film. In a way, this is a grown up version of those thousands of movie battles between cowboys and Indians long ago. It is both visceral and personal.
This is a very powerful film that lays bare the indifference, the contempt and the anger behind the wound that is the bitter relationship between Native Americans and the rest of America. This part of the story is not told through exposition, but through action. Although this story ends with a kind of bitter justice, it makes clear that most of these kinds of stories from the reservation don't include justice. This film rates an A.
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