Wind River

wind-river-still-rev Wind River  (2017)    The Weinstein Company/Action-Thriller    RT: 107 minutes    Rated R (strong violence, a rape, disturbing images, language)    Director: Taylor Sheridan    Screenplay: Taylor Sheridan    Music: Nick Cave and Warren Ellis    Cinematography: Ben Richardson    Release date: August 11, 2017 (Philadelphia, PA)    Cast: Jeremy Renner, Elizabeth Olsen, Gil Birmingham, Graham Greene, Julia Jones, Kelsey Asbille, Jon Bernthal, Martin Sensmeier, Teo Briones, Apesanahkwat, Tantoo Cardinal.  


 On the surface, Wind River is a murder mystery in which a tracker and an FBI agent work together to find out who killed a teenage girl on an Indian reservation in Wyoming. As you watch it, you come to realize it’s about much more than that. You may ask what interest an agent from Fish and Wildlife has in solving the murder of a person. For Cory Lambert (Renner, The Town), it’s deeply personal. It turns out his own daughter (also Native American) died under similar circumstances a few years before. It was never solved. Helping to bring the killer of the current victim to justice is an attempt to gain some form of closure.

 wind riverIn a broader sense, Wind River is also a commentary about the bum deal Native Americans have gotten since white men first came to America. NOT A SPOILER! End titles inform us that there are statistics for missing girls of all races except Native Americans. Many disappearances are never reported much less solved. Writer-director Taylor Sheridan, who wrote the Oscar-nominated screenplay for last year’s Hell or High Water, shows us the horrible living conditions of this country’s original inhabitants. To this end, nothing that happens in Wind River is extraneous. In one scene, the investigators arrest the junkies occupying a rundown house, one of whom might hold crucial information. One of them delivers a monologue about his ending up in his current state was inevitable given the low status of Native Americans in America. It’s not exactly subtle but it gets its point across.

 At its heart, Wind River is still a murder mystery and a compelling one at that. It starts with the victim Natalie (Asbille, TV’s Teen Wolf) running barefoot through the snow in the middle of the night. Her frozen body is discovered the next day by Cory who’s out in the wild hunting wolves. Because the murder occurred on a reservation, the tribal police led by Graham Greene’s (Dances with Wolves) no-nonsense chief are on the case. Also, the FBI sends a young agent, Jane Banner (Olsen, the upcoming Ingrid Goes West), from the Las Vegas office to aid in the investigation. This girl is WAY out of her comfort zone. She didn’t even bring the right clothes; she has to borrow Cory’s late daughter’s winter gear which makes things even more awkward.

 As Cory and Jane work to unravel the mystery of the girl’s death (which the county coroner can’t attribute to murder on the death certificate), Cory confronts his own personal demons even though his ex-wife (Jones, the Twilight series) tells him it won’t make a bit of difference. Like Sheridan’s previous films (as writer only)- 2015’s Sicario and Hell or High Water- Wind River is a slow-burn thriller that ultimately explodes in a sudden burst of violence. It moves along at a nice clip and remains engrossing throughout. The wintry terrain in Wyoming is both brutal and beautiful. The dialogue is first-rate; there’s specificity to the way the characters talk. It sounds completely natural, never forced. At times, it feels like the actors aren’t using a script; they’re just saying what comes naturally. Similarly, there’s great power in quiet moments and what’s left unsaid between characters.

 The acting in Wind River is great. Renner and Olsen, taking a break from their gigs as fellow Avengers, have a nice easy rapport. I like that Sheridan doesn’t try and shoehorn in a needless romance. It wouldn’t make sense and would only serve to throw the movie off-track. Gil Birmingham, so good in Hell or High Water, has some powerful moment’s as the current victim’s grieving father. He’s all masculine strength and stoicism until he’s isn’t. Watching his stony façade crumble and break is one of the film’s most heartbreaking moments.

 The only complaint I have about Wind River is that Olsen’s character is underdeveloped. We get to know precious little about her. We know that she has a strong streak of determination when it comes to working on the case. It’s important to her but why? It can’t be that she’s just trying to further her career; it feels more personal than that. Still, she gives a good performance. She’s the Olsen sister that can act. I really like Wind River; it’s that rare summer movie aimed at adults. It’s gripping, suspenseful and intelligent. It gives you a lot to think about. For that, I thank Mr. Sheridan. 

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