The Last Trapper (2004)

Impression: This movie is in some strange category of its own. It is not exactly a documentary, as some things are staged for dramatic effect, but it features the real life of a trapper in far north Canada, playing himself.  The acting is a little clumsy when it involves any dialogue (since none of the characters are professional actors), and the writing is maybe a little preachy at times, but the gorgeous scenery and the shots of him moving through landscape with his dogs or horses make it completely worth it. Norman is a trapper and he lives off the land, except when he goes into Dawson to sell his furs, hang out with people and have a few drinks.  The logging is threatening their way of life, and they completely move locations and build themselves a new log cabin in an area where there is more trapping to be done. Some drama is added when his favorite dog is killed in town and he has to train and adjust to a new one. Some other dramatic situations arise, and there is minimal contact with another trapper living at least a day’s trek away.  But all of these plot elements are just a vehicle for getting the viewer to appreciate how different Norman’s life is from anyone who might be watching the movie.  The value of this film is in showing this remote landscape through stunning cinematography and dramatic action sequences, so any dialogue and plot are very much secondary  to any of that.

Facts: A trapper and his wife live in the wilderness of the far north of Canada (Yukon Territory, a few days trek from Dawson City pop: 1,375) with his partner, 7 dogs and 2 horses.

Extra: Ran across the movie when searching for Leonard Cohen songs on youtube and seeing the video for By The Rivers Dark. The song is actually featured heavily in the movie.

Wind River (2017)

Impression: Wyoming is cold. Damn cold! I remember. I lived there. This film takes place in Wyoming in the midst of the cold and snow. It’s a murder mystery set on an Indian Reservation. The setting is crucial to the plot as it uses it to hint at issues of poverty and hopelessness and violence. As it is presented in the movie, the prospects are bleak on the reservation and the only escape is either running far away from it or heavy drug use. People are bitter, and forgotten: the area the size of Rhode Island is covered by only 6 police officers. And the conditions are harsh, roads are often impassable in snowstorms and population is sparse. In the midst of all this a completely unequipped female FBI agent from Florida by the way of Las Vegas is sent to solve the crime. Alone.

She engages a local tracker to help her solve the case. Hints in dialogue, slowly reveal that he is emotionally closer to the murder than was apparent at first with his very scientific and detached way of analyzing all the clues.  In general, the dialogues is kind of sparse, and does not explicitly serve to move the plot forward.  In a couple of places, the dialogue borders on too heavy handed or preachy, with its meta-discussions of grief. But mostly the events are presented in a very detached manner, with minimal emotion. As befits a place as cold and frozen as the Wind River reservation.

The acting is good, the cinematograph is breathtaking. The only thing that I really have complaints about is the over-the-top violence. Yes, it’s a violent topic and some violence is bound to happen in resolving it, but I think the big shoot-out in which the entire Wind River police force dies as well as equal number of people on the other side, seemed a little unnecessary. And I know people flying across rooms when shot with a single bullet looks really cool, and it works for John Woo, but Taylor Sheridan is not John Woo.  The highly stylized, and choreographed bullet play, really feels out of place in a movie that is trying to be starkly realistic.  Plus, you know, conservation of momentum and all. But it’s just one scene. The rest of the movie is really quite engaging and well placed, and well filmed.

Facts: A girl is found dead in the snow on the Wind River Reservation and the plot  to solve her murder touches on issues of opportunity, jurisdiction and law enforcement on the reservation.

Extra: Saw this at the opening night of the Indy Film Fest.