“Wind River” Movie Review

I would say something about the premise involving Hawkeye and Scarlet Witch reuniting to solve a murder mystery on a Native American reservation. But trust me when I say that to make that comparison would do the movie a huge disservice on my part. This crime thriller made a splash at the 2017 Sundance and Cannes Film Festivals earlier this year, winning an award for directing in the latter. Receiving a wide release on August 18th, it went on to earn critical acclaim and has doubled its modest $11 million budget. The directorial debut of screenwriter Taylor Sheridan, scribe of both¬†Hell or High Water and Sicario, the film was said to be based on his own experiences on a reservation. He reportedly spent over a year building trust from the Northern Arapaho and Eastern Shoshone Tribal Councils (The tribes situated on the titular reservation) and even secured funding from the Tunica-Biloxi Tribes in Louisiana. So to say that everyone involved was careful about the finished product would be a correct assumption. Jeremy Renner stars as Cory Lambert, a local member of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services that helps hunt down whatever creatures are killing indigenous livestock. Out on a hunt, he finds a young Native woman named Natalie Hanson frozen to death without any winter gear, miles away from the Wind River Indian Reservation. Suspecting foul play, young FBI agent Jane Banner, played by Elizabeth Olsen, is brought on the scene completely unprepared for the winter. Now Lambert, Banner, and the tribal police have to solve this case as the harsh blizzard of Wyoming comes rolling through. I’m always interested when a movie’s being made these days involving Native Americans. Not just because I love Smoke Signals, Dances With Wolves, and The Last of the Mohicans, but also because they are so underrepresented in today’s culture. And I also loved Sheridan’s writing in Sicario and Hell or High Water, being two of my favorite films from the past two years. So naturally, as soon as the buzz came rolling out of its premiere at Sundance this year, I was immediately looking forward to Wind River. And I left the theater 1 hour and 51 minutes later feeling bitten hard and cold but in the best way possible. What impressed me most about the film was the brilliant and almost humanistic screenplay. It’s very much a whodunit murder mystery but the presentation and concept behind it all feel so fresh and invigorating. It’s more of a drama examining how our government has failed to recognize and protect the indigenous peoples of America for so many years. I myself have visited several reservations in relief efforts to rebuild homes and playgrounds for young Native children, and I have witnessed the ugly nature of the poverty and isolation these groups face on a daily basis. How can these people, especially the women, blossom in the world when there’s nothing at “home?” There is some end movie text that comes onscreen that, without spoilers, completely knocked me down. My companion and I sat in our seats for a solid minute of silence before walking out and leaving. Jeremy Renner impresses me with every single movie he’s been a part of, from The Avengers to last year’s Arrival. But he gives easily the best performance of his career here as a complicated man with a seriously troubled past. Elizabeth Olsen was a bit of a mixed bag for me. At first, she came off as a typical “fish-out-of-water” a la Clarice Starling, soon transitioning into a sort of know-it-all. But she later proves her worth when she defuses a tense conflict between the characters. As for the Native actors, everyone present brings their A-game and feels completely natural. Smaller character performers like Julia Jones, Martin Sensmeier, Tantoo Cardinal, and Apesanahkwat all give subtle work as members of this harshly contained environment. First Nations actor Graham Greene provides some chuckle-worthy lines that are really the only moments of levity in this film. As the pragmatic chief of the tribal police, we can see quite a bit through his eyes. But the real winner here is Comanche actor Gil Birmingham as the victim’s grieving father. A haunting role that will most likely receive recognition from the Academy, (Just wishful thinking, really) he is so restrained and quiet in his anguish of a lost daughter. And when he finally lets it all loose, he is amazing. In fact, I think he gives one of my favorite performances of the entire year. The camerawork by Ben Richardson provides some stark shots of the desolate landscape in Wyoming. Be it wide swooping shots of the comparatively puny reservation or intense (And I mean, SUPERINTENSE) handheld close-ups of the ensuing conflicts, it rarely loses its visual luster. This, along with the minimalist score from Nick Cave and Warren Ellis, helped the town become a character in and of itself. The mixture of sad western violins and guitars makes it feel like a land of lost opportunity. As for flaws with the movie, there were moments where I felt like it was a tad overwritten. I appreciate the effort to bring such a taboo topic to the big screen, and Taylor Sheridan is famously allergic to conventional filmmaking. But sometimes the characters would go on monologues about their problems for quite a while. Occasionally, it felt a little in-your-face and unsubtle, as if it could have been delivered through context. And I’m not sure how rewatchable it is. That’s it. The rest of this movie, I loved. Wind River is a sobering look at the troubles of a deserving group of people. As someone who has seen these issues first hand, I highly recommend my readers to go see this movie and support those involved. Especially since the summer movie season has officially ended and the box office has pretty much been sucked dry. We’re just beginning the awards season, and we have our first leader.

Image result for wind river movie

1 thought on ““Wind River” Movie Review

  1. Pingback: Retrospective: The Best Films of 2017 | Geek's Landing

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s