Any movie that opens with the dialog “Gun’s always loaded, even if it ain’t…” and features a hand-loading scene, well, that’s going to buy it an extra star or so in my ratings.
Wind River is the third in an ex-post-facto trilogy from screen writer Taylor Sheridan, who also wrote Sicario and Come Hell or High Water. Unlike the first two, Sheridan was the director on this one. It is a solid piece of storytelling, well shot and well acted. Wind River is framed as “inspired by true events,” drawing attention, as it does, to the difficulties of law enforcement on Indian reservations.
For once, Netflix did me a favor on this one. It came up under recommendations as a DVD that would appeal to me. Based on the synopsis, it sounded a little weak… something about Fish and Game getting involved in an FBI investigation. It did not mention the writer/director connection with the other two films, both of which I’ve seen and strongly appreciated. But the old rating system, still in place for DVDs, ranked it very highly, so I had it shipped out.
The synopsis isn’t wrong, but it doesn’t capture the film at all. My first read through made it sound like a murder mystery taking place in the offices of some obscure governmental agencies. Then I began to imagine North Woods Law: Wyoming -styled action film. The pejorative of my title is a reference I’ve heard used on Fish and Game enforcement personnel who aspire to broader law enforcement jurisdiction. Fortunately, it was none of these. Had the reference to the earlier films been made explicit, I would have anticipated an atmosphere and pacing that are very much in line with the previous works.
The lead character in Wind River is a U.S. Fish and Game hunter working in Wyoming. He is responsible for removing predators when they encroach upon the population and their livestock. This identity is critical to the story in that Indian Reservations have a rather bizarre patchwork of law enforcement jurisdiction.
The theme an ambience is similar to Longmire, which I finished watching a month or two ago. The TV series often focused on the lack of jurisdiction of the county sheriff’s office on tribal reservation land, and that is part of Wind River as well. Additionally, the tribal police only have jurisdiction over their own tribe. So if the perpetrator of a crime on Indian land is non-Indian (or simply from a different tribe), the tribal police lack authority over the person and the local police lack authority over the place. The only remaining authority are the Feds. FBI or perhaps some other Federal agency involved, such as the Bureau of Land Management or, in the case presented in the movie, Fish and Game.
While, in theory, Federal jurisdiction on Federal lands is all well and good, in remote areas of the west the availability of Federal law enforcement officers (also a theme in Longmire, I might add), can often not be up to the task. For a remote wilderness, needing to ship FBI agents in from two states over probably isn’t that much of an issue. However, if that wilderness has a sizeable population in the form of an Indian reservation, a lack of on-site people who actually have jurisdiction is going to be felt.
The result is a movie that mixes social commentary, slow-burning drama, and a (welcomed) subdued action into an excellent mix. Well worth the watch. It also has me all the more excited about Sicario 2, on its way. I had wondered whether Sicario was something of a one-off, a bit of luck for a relatively unknown writer, but this guy is clearly on a roll.