British writer Jack Thorne is getting a lot of attention these days as the author of “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child,” but the number of complaints from hardcore fans leads me to believe that it’s hard to see Thorne’s talent through all the emotions people feel about J.K. Rowling’s creation. The TV work he’s done is probably a better venue, including the excellent gritty drama series, “This Is England” and the ahead-of-its-time teenage supernatural effort, “The Fades.”
Add to that the four-part series, “Kiri,” on the surface a murder whodunnit, but in reality a more intimate examination of how we use racism to obstruct justice.Kiri (Felicia Mukasa), a young black girl, is about to be adopted by her white foster family, but her social worker (Sarah Lancashire) has pushed to keep the lines open between Kiri and her grandfather as a way of addressing cultural concerns. When a tragedy happens, the police and the press get involved, and as the stereotypes swirl, it’s those falling on the wrong line of the race and class divisions that get punished.
Lancashire has gained a lot of attention for her fantastic work in “Happy Valley” and “Last Tango in Halifax,” and here she shows her versatility further as the imperfect social worker. There are a lot of flawed characters here, and as viewers, we are challenged to look past their inadequacies — as well as the conclusions our prejudices allow ourselves to be lead to — and take a hard look at how blame is craved, and how mobs push that blame along with the expected narratives.
If, by the end, the conclusions Kiri comes to seem a little obvious, it’s primarily because we’ve seen various versions of it play out again and again. The real brilliance is in recognizing the process by which people are coerced into making it happen repeatedly, and acknowledging the scapegoats we’ve created and who we expect to play their roles.
‘WIND RIVER’ (AMAZON, APPLE, GOOGLE PLAY, NETFLIX, VUDU, YOUTUBE)
“Wind River” is a movie drenched in death, which is not unexpected in a murder mystery, but the death featured does not service the film merely as dressing in a genre. Concerning itself with the death of Native American girl on a reservation, “Wind River” takes subtle pain to remind us that death and sorrow are commonplace in that world.
The very concept of a murder mystery is that something happens that is not normal, and someone is required to get to the root of what happened to return normalcy. But victimized women are typical in that world; despair is typical and, as is pointed out in the film, both are normal enough that neither is paid attention to by the white world.
The film focuses on Cory Lambert (Jeremy Renner), a game tracker who hunts predators for local farmers after he finds the body of a reservation girl frozen in the snow. The FBI sends the closest person they have, rookie Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen) to look into the incident and pass it along to her supervisor. Realizing that if she doesn’t dig deeper, then the case is likely to be passed along and ignored, Banner relies on Lambert to help her navigate the devastated community. It’s devastated not just because of the death of one girl, but that of many girls and the cancers of drugs and crime that rot the community’s core.
It’s a whodunnit where you already know the answer, but the answer isn’t the critical part anyhow. Renner’s quiet but intense sadness, Olsen’s sincerity, both serve well as characters to focus on and soften the blow of the world you encounter as they move through it. The culprit, as presented in “Wind River,” is the United States of America, and the privilege enjoyed by white people to discard the lives of Native Americans without a thought.
Obvious? Sure. But after hundreds of years, it seems to be a point that continually needs to be brought up, and this unexpected indie thriller gets to the human core of the issue with compassion.
Originally published at www.berkshireeagle.com.