Why It’s a Good Time to Revisit Taylor Sheridan’s “Wind River”

Right now the disappearance and death of “vanlife” personality Gabby Petito at the presumed hands of her boyfriend is gripping the nation and world, and to such a permeating degree that it has caused sort of its own specific backlash as people wake up to the thousands of people that go missing, or who are the victims of unsolved murders every year that don’t happen to be pretty white girls from affluent backgrounds, especially native American women who go missing, or are murdered, or are otherwise exploited at an alarming clip in the United States.

Screenwriter and director Taylor Sheridan from Texas has been receiving tons of buzz lately, especially in the country music world since his television series Yellowstone on the Paramount Network features so many great independent country artists in its soundtrack, not to mention Sheridan is about to start a second prequel series to the show starring Tim McGraw and Faith Hill called 1883. The huge success of Yellowstone has helped put artists such as Colter Wall and Whiskey Myers on the national map.

Previously, Sheridan also was the screenwriter for the drug cartel film Sicario in 2015, which won numerous awards and was a box office smash, followed quickly by 2016’s Hell or High Water, which just like Yellowstone, featured a killer soundtrack that included Colter Wall, Scott H. Biram, Ray Wylie Hubbard, Townes Van Zandt, Waylon Jennings, and others. Hell or High Water was also nominated for four Academy Awards, including Best Screenplay, and Best Film.

But the wild success Taylor Sheridan has enjoyed recently has somewhat overshadowed what was the third film in the screenwriter’s neo-Western trilogy about “the modern-day American frontier,” which also included Sicario and Hell or High Water. Called Wind River and released in 2017, it didn’t receive quite the critical acclaim of Hell or High Water, or have the commercial success of Sicario, but it is a vital contribution to the Taylor Sheridan canon nonetheless, and one worth revisiting in the wake of the Gabby Petito disappearance and death.

Taylor Sheridan was specifically inspired to write the film due to the thousands of stories of indigenous women being raped, exploited, and murdered on and off Indian reservations, with little to no attention being paid to the issue from the outside world. The film is about a murder on the Wind River Indian Reservation in Wyoming that an FBI agent (Elizabeth Olsen), a Fish and Wildlife tracker (Jeremy Renner), and the Tribal Police Chief (Graham Greene) all work to solve.

Unlike some of Taylor Sheridan’s other work, the film is not just a neo-Western style shoot ’em up. It’s a thoughtful and nuanced approach to the subject matter, with also just enough action to keep you intrigued, and is well-acted by all parties. Taylor Sheridan also directed the film.

Wind River also happens to be featured on Netflix at the moment.

The disappearance and death of Gabby Petito is a good reminder of all of the people who go missing or get murdered each year with no answers for the family. As much as we love to praise Taylor Sheridan for his efforts to revitalize the Western story in the modern context, and for shining a spotlight on cool country artists through his soundtracks, his effort to create renewed interest in the disappearance and deaths of so many Native American women should not be overlooked, any more than the thousands of missing persons cases every year.

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