Year Released: 2017
Directed by: Taylor Sheridan
Starring: JeremyRenner, Elizabeth Olsen, Graham Greene, Gil Birmingham
(R, 111 min.)
Genre: Drama, Mystery and Suspense
“You’re looking for clues, but you’re missing all the signs.” Cory Lambert
Silent. Lonely. And cold. The territory and some of the people, too. Wolves are on the prowl. Lions, as well. But it’s the human predators that are the most dangerous.
Attention, all the fans of Longmire, Sicario, and Hell or High Water. We’ve got another winner here. With a taut script by Taylor Sheridan, who wrote the latter 2 films, and a fine cast we come to care about, this film earns your attention the old fashioned way.
Sure, it’s a thriller all right, with sharp bursts of explosive violence that spin you around like a high caliber bullet to the chest, but the thrills are not cheap, and the mayhem fits into a well woven plot.
But the real core is the land itself, the Wind River Indian Reservation in Wyoming, comprised of some 2.2 millions acres. It is harsh, desolate, and unforgiving, just as are those that inhabit it, a little like the setting and cast of the Welsh drama Hinterland, where the murderers, victims, and even the detectives are as bereft and melancholy as the land they inhabit.
Wind River is the land of prey and predator, as we see in one of the first shots. The camera’s eye is through the scope of a rifle as Cory Lambert (Jeremy Renner) kills two wolves circling a herd of sheep. The meticulous and patient shooter, who blends into the snow in his white coveralls, quickly dispatches them. The predators have become the prey. Meticulous in his skills, but perhaps not in his dress, Cory still has a patch of blood on him when he picks up his son from his estranged wife. She notices.
Another early scene shows a young woman running and then falling in the snow. Lambert, this time tracking some mountain lions, finds her remains. The death of the barefoot runner is not a mystery; her lungs have burst because of the frozen air she has inhaled on her 6-mile flight. But the real killer is not the cold.
Tribal Police Chief Ben, an always excellent Graham Greene, whom we love to hate in Longmire, gets the assistance of an FBI agent flown in from its nearest office in Las Vegas. Agent Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen) is a rookie. She arrives in a near blizzard dressed for an early autumn in the Poconos and even manages to lose her way to the victim’s house. But the girl has grit, we will soon learn. And an ability to know when she needs help.
She sees Lambert, who officially works for the U.S. Fish and Game, as that person. He tells her he hunts predators.
“Why don’t you come hunt one for me, then?” she asks. There is something about the victim – Lambert says he knows her – that both repels and draws him to the crime. Ultimately, he decides to help.
Although the mystery itself keeps us riveted, it is really the character of Lambert himself that fascinates. In some ways he is the quiet loner, like Walt Longmire. He accepts his allotted time with his son, even when duty calls him away from those precious moments. As part of his job he eliminates predators with stoic efficiency. Yet when he meets the aggrieved parent of the dead girl, Martin (Gil Brimingham), the two break down in each other’s arms. We know they share a tragedy, and that the earlier unfeeling facades mask deep wounds in each.
Birmingham, by the way, played the deputy sheriff in Hell or High Water, where the frequency and intensity of the verbal sparring between him and Jeff Bridges’ sheriff being the manly way they showed their deep affection.
There’s not much comic relief here, though, except for a wink and a nod in the final act, but 64-year-old Birmingham is so good he has one critic wondering if an actor could have a break out role at this late stage in his career.
Three explosions of violence punctuate the film. They come sudden and unexpected like feral animals suddenly reverting to savagery. And we are reminded of Tribal Chief Ben’s prophetic remark:
“This isn’t a land of backup, Jane. This is a land of you’re on your own.”
Not to miss. One of the best films of 2017 and an Oscar contender if there is any fairness in this world.
Cory Lambert is not, but all his better parts – wife, son, in-laws – are Arapaho. And he fits in this land, the silence and the snow, just as they do.
The hunt for the young girl’s killer will be long, hard, and dangerous. Let’s put together some Old Fashioned Frybread for him before he leaves.
“Some like it with powdered sugar, others like to order a ‘Frybread Taco’ stuffed with everything from venison, bison, beef and beans.”
Good Old-Fashioned Frybread
One cup of flour
One teaspoon of baking powder
1/8 teaspoon of salt
½ cup of very warm water
In a large bowl combine and whisk the dry ingredients. Add warm water and begin to mix with my hands into a ball. I add more flour as needed to end up with a sticky ball of dough. The dough should be sticky (i.e. you’re scraping dough off your hands and back into the mix.) Once mixed, cover the dough for a minimum of 30 minutes, although 45 minutes is better.
Fill a large cast-iron skillet with an inch and a half of oil and heat it (medium-high). To test when the oil is ready I use a small piece of dough that will float and bubble when dropped in. I then take a piece of dough and stretch it so it is very thin in the middle and carefully place it in the hot oil. Once the dough becomes brown on either side it now has the ability to impart “Frybread Power.”
Move the frybread to a paper towel while you cook the next piece of dough.
Once done, garnish however you wish.