Music

Wind River (Nick Cave & Warren Ellis) – Film Score Review

Caleb Burnett reviews the score to Taylor Sheridan's Wind River...

Composer: Nick Cave & Warren Ellis
Label: Lakeshore Records & Invada Records
Tracks: 23
Running time: 45 minutes

When a young Native American woman is found murdered on a rural reservation in Wyoming, local game tracker Corey Lambert (Jeremy Renner) must team up with rookie FBI agent Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen) to seek out her killer. Wind River is a chilling, heart-wrenching crime drama whose isolated locales and weathered, driven characters make the justice that is sought all the more desirable.

Keeping with the minimalistic style of their previous work, Nick Cave and Warren Ellis have crafted a musical score for this film that exquisitely aids the delicate emotions and tough justice the storyline of this film is built upon.
Wind River begins as a young woman is seen running for her life in the snow, accompanied musically by wailing voices and soft-spoken poetry. Since she does not speak in this scene, the music personifies her hopeless, fearful emotions. The scene and music cut suddenly to total silence as the viewer takes in a cold, rural Wyoming landscape.

We get our first glimpse of life in the form of sheep. As Lambert takes out the wolf that is threatening them with precision, the first musical cue, ‘Snow Wolf’, occurs. Synthesized tones and harp support a solo cello that delivers a brief, freely played motif. This motif could possibly be associated with Lambert, but more on that later. That instrumentation transitions into a moment of plucked strings, piano, and woodwinds as he feeds his horses.

Our game tracker is summoned to handle a mountain lion that has been preying upon cattle on the Wind River Native American reservation as the next musical cue occurs. Synthesizer accompanies soft strings and wailing, Native American ritual-esque voices on ‘Tell Me What That Is’ as Lambert enters the reservation.
As he begins tracking the mountain lion, ‘First Journey’ is heard echoing across the endless snow. With its combination of plucked strings, high-pitched, wailing voices, and spoken word poetry, this cue is unique among the others in the score.

As Lambert comes upon what he realizes is the deceased teenage girl, the wailing voices and strings reverberate under a voice softly uttering “Far from your loving eyes… and all across the winds I run…”. These words carry much weight at the eventual reveal of what has happened to this young woman. As Lambert examines the body, the original cello motif returns and extends into an ascending and darkly powerful string theme, for he realizes who this young woman is and how she is connected to him.

As the story moves along, the score gradually becomes a beautiful and poignant mix of all previous musical elements. The ‘First Body’ and ‘Second Body’ cues reveal the nature of the scenes they accompany through their titles. They combine strings, somewhat static piano, and wailing voices to communicate the internal feelings of the Wind River Native American community. Later, Lambert and Banner bond as they reveal the occurrences of their past that motivate them in the present. Solemn piano accents synthesized organ in ‘Corey’s Story’ as Lambert reveals the nature of his family situation.

As ‘Shoot Out’ is cued, the investigation moves to an isolated drill site. High, sliding strings meld with the synthesizer, harp, and cello of previous cues to create a thick environment of tense anticipation. Lambert and Banner’s investigation comes to a solution and Lambert visits the Native American Woman’s parents. ‘Memory Time’ brings more static, somber piano, synthesizer, and high-pitched, sliding strings. This cue represents the emotions of the parents in this scene most perfectly. The extended string theme makes a return here as the woman is remembered, and the initial cello solo is heard once again as Lambert comforts her father.

It is important to note that there are many scenes in this film that are completely void of music. Overall, this score is sparingly used to accent emotional moments and rural locales, and in its gorgeous ambience, does so flawlessly. At the same time, it is not used excessively or as regularly as other crime drama scores, but in fitting doses to balance out what Wind River presents visually. The oft used synthesized tones make the solo cello stand out as unique, just as Lambert, a white man, stands out on a Native American reservation.

Cave and Ellis’ musical choices unite to personify the morose and spiritual tone of this film. They have outdone themselves in introducing musical elements and then marrying them together later in stirring or intense moments. This score is a more than fitting counterpart and underscore to the gripping mystery and affecting human moments Wind River brings to viewers.

Wind River: Original Score is now available from Lakeshore Records & Invada Records.

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