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Soundtrack review: Wind river (Nick Cave & Warren Ellis – 2017)

Film scores

Soundtrack review: Wind river (Nick Cave & Warren Ellis – 2017)


Wind River is a 2017 American thriller film directed and written by Taylor Sheridan in his directorial debut. The film stars Jeremy Renner and Elizabeth Olsen. US Fish and Wildlife Service agent Cory Lambert (Renner) discovers a body in the rugged wilderness of the Wind River Indian Reservation. The FBI sends in rookie agent Jane Banner (Olsen), but she’s unprepared for the difficulties created by the oppressive weather and isolation of the Wyoming winter. When she employs Cory as a tracker, the two venture deep into a world ravaged by violence and the elements. It sounds lie my kind of movie, I like stories set in isolation and wilderness. And for me there’s no better pair of composers to write the music for such a setting than Nick Cave and Warren Ellis who have developed a Western sound that to me cannot be separated anymore from a vast and unforgiving environment.

Any score from them is a reason to celebrate for me and I have been spoiled this year. Their latest was “War machine” and I was enchanted by that one. Over the years, Cave & Ellis have written compositions that very rarely got below 100% album excellence from me; something about those long and tortured strings, about the reflectiveness and poignancy of their sound and overall ambient soundscape always gets to me. In fact, it’s not something; it’s everything in their music that gets to me. I treat everyone of their scores like a precious gift, with sweet anticipation and sometimes I even delay listening to it just to prolong this feeling.

As the unmistakable sound of a Cave / Ellis composition begins to slowly take me over, as the quiet strings wail, I imagine the two artists sitting in their small studio creating this music; I imagine them hunched over a piano or with a string instrument over their knee…I imagine them coming up with the haunting choral pieces that probably mirror the external elements and dangers of the area. A cue like “Meth voice” chills me more than being in that harsh winter environment would. When Nick Cave’s unbelievable and unique voice recites over “First journey” and “Second journey”, raspy and tired, I just embrace this musical gift and am grateful that every now and then this voice appears on scores also. Nick Cave’s voice is usually hard and poignant but here he almost whispers haunting poems of loss and desperation and it’s beautiful.

I imagine these two musical geniuses who have been making music together for something like 25 years hunched above that piano maybe because each of them is carrying the load of everything he lived, felt and experienced over that period and now they are pouring it into music but always through a thin sieve that makes it easier for us, the listeners, to take it in. It’s a sieve made of piano and strings, a sieve that grinds those heavy emotional rocks and turns them into sand. It’s sand that pours right through my hands and I desperately try to hold them in my palm….but I can’t…these are not my emotions and burdens and the score goes on and will end just as that sand will all fall down.

The fresh and everlasting wound of recently losing a son still bleeds into the haunting music that Nick Cave writes. The motifs are a bit darker and the shadows are larger than they used to be. The cues are not as melodic as they used to be in, say, “The assassination of Jesse James by the coward Robert Ford” and they hurt more. I imagine his scowl dissolved a bit when he wrote the magnificent “Corey’s story” as there is nothing but good and love in that cue. The music is sweet and the piano caresses everything else. The strings are gentler and every layer of this cue replaces haunting with nostalgic.

Every now and then the piano pierces the veil and lets some light come in from somewhere far, far away. “Wind river” is mournful and deep and each cue gives me a feeling of something immobile and eternal which makes the certitude that this score will eventually end something even harder to bear; it also makes this album a reflective place I will be able to return any time, all the time, and drown and burry my own tribulations and burdens. It’s a lonely score that tells me I’m not alone and that everything will pass and turn into dust. The album is both and elegy and a lullaby, both a fairy tale and a terrifying story, both a trap and an escape. And the story is told with a bow, a few strings, 20 fingers, a piano and a few voices…

“Wind river” is Nick Cave and Warren Ellis at their absolute haunting and meditative best. This is not just music, it’s also poetry and even if I am not one to care much about awards, I think it’s time this pair was considered for an Academy Award for this score that brings both the swaying of trees under the winter wind and the wind itself; it has the best choral and vocal work they have done yet and it makes me feel both the frozen beauty, the still sadness and every danger that lurks in the wilderness of the story. It also has one of the best voices ever to grace our ears whisper poems that to me talk about never letting go of the one you truly love. “Wind river” is dark and beautiful, a flawless musical story and I couldn’t help but get misty eyed by the time “Memory time” came. It’s the perfect conclusion to a perfect score.

“Far from your loving eyes

In a place where winter never comes

Far from your loving eyes

Alone among the wind I run

Far from your loving eyes

Alone among the wind I run

I return to this place

And close my eyes again”

Cue rating: 100 / 100

Total minutes of excellence: 45 / 45

Album excellence: 100%


Snow Wolf


Tell Me What That Is

First Journey

First Body

Second Journey


Never Gonna be the Same


Meth House

Bad News

Third Journey

Second Body


Corey’s Story

See You Tomorrow

Three Season in Wyoming


Shoot Out

Snow Flight

Memory Time

Survive or Surrender

Wind river

Mihnea Manduteanu

I have been listening to film music for 25 years and writing about it since 2014. I've written over 1000 reviews and I can't imagine myself doing anything else. I am also a member of IFMCA (International Film Music Critics Association).

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