New Times,
New Thinking.

  1. Culture
8 September 2017updated 14 Sep 2021 2:36pm

Grim autopsies and heavy metaphors in Taylor Sheridan’s Wind River

Most of the dialogue would look good on a series of commemorative tea towels.

By Ryan Gilbey

As symbolic jobs go, the hero of Wind River has a corker. Cory Lambert (Jeremy Renner) is a US wildlife officer who is first seen (or not seen, since he is dressed in white against the snowy Wyoming landscape) shooting a wolf that is stalking a flock of sheep. Cory is a protector of the innocent, a catcher in the ice. Just the man to assist an out-of-town FBI agent, Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen), with a homicide case involving an 18-year-old Native American woman found dead on the Wind River Indian Reservation.

Cory is unusually troubled by the murder. What’s eating him? It isn’t long before we find out in some explanatory chunks of back story that break off from the rest of the script like ice floes. Only seconds after delivering the bad news to the dead woman’s father, Cory is giving him a pep talk about how he should open himself up to grief. Turns out that Cory has done his fair share of grieving. He even went to a seminar once: “I wanted answers to questions that couldn’t be answered.” His ex-wife learns that he is helping out with the investigation. “You can’t get the answers you’re looking for, no matter what you find,” she says. A Native American man spells it out: “The only Native thing about you,” he tells Cory, “is your ex-wife and a daughter you couldn’t protect.” Bingo!

The case is a bit Silence of the Lambs at first. Jane is obstructed by a patronising sheriff (played by Graham Greene, the chief from Dances With Wolves) and there’s a grisly autopsy scene. She also tracks a suspected killer through his apartment with her vision restricted, as Jodie Foster did in the earlier movie. But the writer-director Taylor Sheridan turns out to have more on his mind than just reheated Lambs. He wants to show how badly the indigenous people have been treated. He isn’t going to be deterred by the small matter of not having come up with anything for Native Americans to do in his film other than to play the victims.

Sheridan has enjoyed recent screenwriting success with Sicario, about Mexican drug cartels, and the credit-crunch western Hell or High Water, for which he was Oscar-nominated. Wind River is only his second outing as a director (or his first if you prefer, as he does, to pretend he didn’t make a disreputable 2011 horror movie called Vile) and his style is still rudimentary. He is that lethal combination of verbose writer and ponderous director. He equates violence with redemption in a way that leaves Wind River inferior to Sean Penn’s The Pledge, the film it most resembles, which challenged the connection between vengeance and closure. Sheridan floods every corner of the picture with music – desolate piano, dejected violins – and keeps having minor characters drop clues into casual conversation. In one scene, even the sheriff notices: “This thing’s solving itself!” he exclaims.

Most of the dialogue (“There’s a storm comin’… I wanted to fight the world…  This land: what it does to us”) would look good on a series of commemorative tea towels. It certainly doesn’t belong on the lips of an actor as gifted as Renner. Parts of his character have been written with a minimalist Steve McQueen type in mind. Cory slouches against an abandoned refrigerator in a snow-covered field and when he’s asked how well he knows the land, he replies: “Like it’s my job. Which it is.” But Renner’s strong suit is warmth, not cool. His doughy, puppy-dog face looks like it’s been scrunched up, thrown in the bin and then retrieved and flattened out again. He’s so sincere that he can wear dungarees over a hoodie without fear of ridicule.

Select and enter your email address Your weekly guide to the best writing on ideas, politics, books and culture every Saturday. The best way to sign up for The Saturday Read is via The New Statesman's quick and essential guide to the news and politics of the day. The best way to sign up for Morning Call is via
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how Progressive Media Investments may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.

If only Cory didn’t have such a one-track mind. “When you’re catching wolves, you don’t look for where they might be, you look for where they’ve been,” he says gravely during the hunt for the murderer. Musing on the subject of luck, he points out that “wolves don’t kill unlucky deer, they kill the weak ones.” Jane gazes back at him with a mixture of fondness and pity. Perhaps she’s wondering whether there is any chance of him coming up with a metaphor not related to his job. 

Content from our partners
We need an urgent review of UK pensions
The future of private credit
Peatlands are nature's unsung climate warriors

This article appears in the 06 Sep 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Corbyn’s next move