Taylor Sheridan's 'Wind River' Is a Blistering Expose of Violence against Native American Women; One of Hollywood's Top Writers Returns with 'Wind River,' Shining a Light on Sexual Abuse and the Many Women Who Disappear on America's Indian Reservations

By Schilling, Mary Kaye | Newsweek, August 11, 2017 | Go to article overview

Taylor Sheridan's 'Wind River' Is a Blistering Expose of Violence against Native American Women; One of Hollywood's Top Writers Returns with 'Wind River,' Shining a Light on Sexual Abuse and the Many Women Who Disappear on America's Indian Reservations


Schilling, Mary Kaye, Newsweek


Byline: Mary Kaye Schilling

In the final moments of the film Hell or High Water, Sheriff Marcus Hamilton, played by Jeff Bridges, visits one of the brothers responsible for a string of bank robberies in several small, struggling towns of West Texas. After taking stock of what those acts have cost in lives, as well as what they have yielded for the brother and his family, Bridges chuckles: "The things we do for our kids, huh?"

The screenwriter, Taylor Sheridan, has a way with a wryly humorous and understated line. He came late to writing, but he came at it hard. The film Hell or High Water, only the second script he has written, was nominated for several Oscars, including best original screenplay (it was also 2016's highest-grossing indie). His first script, Sicario, another critical and commercial smash, came out the year before. Sheridan's latest, Wind River, he got to direct himself.

A loosely linked trilogy, the three films, all located in the modern American West, hold up a mirror to some very bad shit: Sicario centers on the militarization of the drug war in southern Arizona; Hell or High Water highlights the latest chapter in the multigenerational story of West Texas poverty, this one sparked by predatory loans; Wind River addresses violence against Native American women on the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming, a place of near-impossible conditions, natural and otherwise. "The films explore how much and how little has changed since the American West was settled, as well as the consequence of that settlement." The reservations, he adds, are the most tangible remnant of that, as well as "our country's greatest shame."

Thrillers--heavy on action and violence, lightly dusted with conscience--are Sheridan's sweet spot. If there are heroes in these stories, they're at the discretion of the audience; even the men and women in white hats sometimes get results in morally ambiguous ways. Hell or High Water's good sheriff is a casual racist, and the antihero most people root for, played by Chris Pine, is "a 40-year-old fuck-up who finally realized that his kids were growing up to be just like him, because he'd given them no alternative," says Sheridan. "He's not a Robin Hood. He's not altruistic." Many people, though, can relate to his hatred of banks and house foreclosures, no matter that the mess he's in is largely self-created.

"There's not a lot of pure evil in the world, but it's amazing how little it takes to do great damage," says Sheridan. "Most of us don't confront pure anything. What our life does involve is a whole lot of 60/40 and 70/30. Bad people sometimes do good things, and good people do really bad things, or do something the audience disagrees with. I can't wait for PETA to get on me about what Cory Lambert's job is."

Wind River's Lambert, played by Jeremy Renner, is an animal tracker who shoots the coyotes and mountain lions that kill stock. "It's a real job. Don't bitch at me if you don't like it," Sheridan chides his imagined critics at People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. "I didn't romanticize the job, and I didn't demonize it."

Like his previous scripts, Wind River highlights a preoccupation of Sheridan's: the stressors that tear family structures apart, like drug wars or reverse mortgages or entrenched racist laws. Each of his stories features a father who will do anything to make up for, as he sees it, failing his family. Lambert is enlisted by a rookie FBI agent, played by Elizabeth Olsen, to investigate the rape and murder of a young woman on the Wind River Reservation. Lambert used to live there with his Native wife; they split up over the apparent death of their eldest child, a teenage daughter who disappeared three years before the film begins. "With Wind River, I became fascinated with the notion of how you overcome a tragedy--accepting it, making whatever peace you can with it, without ever knowing what really happened," says Sheridan. …

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