It’s kind of like a millennial Thunderheart, I guess. Remember that one? Val Kilmer was still a respected actor playing a half-Indian—he may even have claimed to be part Indian which, pace Senator Warren, has been an American tradition going back to Croatan, I suppose.
Writer/director Taylor Sherdian, who penned both Sicario and Hell or High Water—which slipped through the reviewing cracks, apparently, though we all liked it—and is probably best known for his acting work on “Sons of Anarchy” and “Veronica Mars”, brings us another tale of the clash of the frontier with civilization, where (again) civilization often seems to be the source of the problem.
In this case, Jeremy Renner plays Cory Lambert, a tracker who is called out to a murder scene in the cold Wyoming wilderness. An Indian girl has fled some horror that was great enough to set her off into subzero weather wearing very little clothes. Apparently, when the weather gets that cold, your lung sacs freeze, then burst, then you drown and/or asphyxiate in your own frozen blood, or something equally horrible. You get the idea.
Cory happens to know the girl, as she used to be best friend of his own daughter, who died a year previously under similar “mysterious” circumstances. (I put that in quotes because there seems to be little mystery as to what happened, except in the details, and the movie isn’t really a mystery, but a kind of action/thriller.) The death of his daughter seems ended his relationship with his wife (they were off canoodling when it happened) and left him with a whole passel of grief. When the movie starts, he’s picking up his son for his visiting time, and his wife says she’s moving to a different (nearby) city if she gets this good-paying job, and he should expect support to go up if that happens. (I didn’t quite parse the logic there but it’s not important.)
Anyway, daddy-son day is temporarily delayed as he goes to investigate with whomever the FBI sends up. And they happen to send up Elizabeth Olsen (as Jane Banner). This was perfect casting. A quick search indicates the Olsen is 5’6″ or even 5’7″ which, I suppose, is possible, but if so, I bet she struggles to hit 100 pounds on the scale. She’s wholly inappropriate for the job and the movie plays that to the hilt, complete with universal disdain amongst all the Wyomingans, whether Amerind or Caucasian.
And, in a refreshing “twist”, no small degree herself. She knows she’s not the right person for the job, she’s just the person who happened to be closest.
Sheridan gets a lot of points from me for this character arc: She’s serious about what she does, but she’s forthright about her limitations and honest enough to see how severe they are in this context. She leans heavily on Cory, frustrated by the general lack of support the government is going to give this case. Her main contribution, in fact, is that she refuses to do things that will cause the case to simply be dismissed and her sent back to a warmer climate.
This is not nothing. Given her discomfort in the environment, it’s heroic in a way that Cory, whose actions are more traditionally heroic are not, as his are more personally motivated. Jane could just as easily signal half-a-dozen things to get herself out of there. (Of course, if she did, not much of a movie.)
As I say, it’s pretty clear upfront what’s going on, and the tale plays out too straightforwardly to be much of a mystery, but it’s good drama, with good action and some nice suspenseful moments, however quickly and violently those are resolved. The postscript tries to make hay out of the fact that the US doesn’t collect information on this kind of crime when they take place on reservations, but I think that’s because the US doesn’t collect any information on reservation crimes. It’s part of the faux-Indian-nation thing—a dumb charade that seems to provide nothing but opportunities for the government to behave badly, from what I can tell.
Anyway. Good film. Way better than Thunderheart, I’d say, even without Val Kilmer and Sam Shepard. And pretty refreshing in this day-and-age.