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The Subterranean: Native Americans’ genocide by attrition

A Review of “Wind River”

***1/2 out of five stars

Currently available on video

by Walter G. Tarrow

Genocide by attrition. You wait long enough and the Native Americans will just go missing, just go away, just disappear.

Wind River is a very bleak cold, replete with snow, mountains of snow, modern take on a conventional Western. The main differences are it takes place on a reservation, the Native Americans are the good guys, and it is buried in unrelenting grimness. 

Like the Wild West everyone has guns and all anticipate they’ll have to use them which they do. A lot. And too casually for my taste.

At the center of Wind River is Cory Lambert (Jeremy Renner), a Fish and Wildlife warden whose primary job, as he declares, is to track, hunt and kill predators in the Wyoming wilderness. The film opens with him, camouflage white, hidden in the snow with a high powered rifle shooting a wolf threatening a herd of sheep on the Wind River Reservation. He then works his way up the food chain. 

Along for the snowmobile ride is FBI agent Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen) dispatched to investigate the death of a missing Native American woman Cory found while tracking a mountain lion. She is thought of as green by the Wind River police chief (Graham Greene) but with Cory’s guidance proves up to the challenge and is surprisingly quick on the draw.

With his ex-wife being a Wind River native and having lost their daughter under similar circumstances to the now, Cory knows the pain and suffering of today’s Arapaho nation. As such, he becomes their avenging angel, their Spaghetti Western “man with no name.”

With a Mexican standoff Reservoir Dogs confrontation with the “bad guys” and a cheat flashback that excuses the Cory/Jane team from having to conduct a more comprehensive forensic investigation (which was never to be expected given the harshness of the setting), Wind River resolves itself, but resignedly so, to its depressive reality.

The aerial shots of snow covered expanses are frigid and bleached. The dialogue and acting are icy and angry. And a wise choice was made in getting Nick Cave (who scored the Aussie Western The Proposition) to lend his talents. 

We may have won this battle, just barely, but this war is already lost. I’m reminded of “The Crying Indian” ad of the early 1970s, but today he’s crying not because we’re littering, but because he and his people have lost everything.

At least we still have our guns. Yeehaw!

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