Luck don't live out here
Wind River is directed and written by Taylor Sheridan and stars Jeremy Renner and Elizabeth Olsen.
Taylor Sheridan has been the writer of two other crime-based thrillers that I just couldn't come away from feeling dazzled or blown away by. The first was Sicario, a film that I wanted to love, but just couldn't. The second was Hell or High Water, and I largely had the same mental reaction towards it as I did with Sicario. Perhaps it was that I didn't perceive either of these films the way they were meant to. I know they were crime films featuring grisly violence as well as a sharp psychological edge. I just didn't get what exactly was intended by those psychological edges.
Wind River, though? I think I do get it, and that's why I can safely say that I liked it a lot. It's a film that tugs and pulls with its violence, characters, and mystery, but in a way that takes full advantage of the setting as well as what the writing is trying to get at in the grand scheme of things. One of the best parts of the film is the text that is given to us right before the end credits, and it brings the film full circle just when you think there could be a twist ending or that Sheridan decided to let us go out on a gentle note after everything calms down.
The plot involves game hunter Cory Lambert (Renner), who accidentally stumbles upon the frozen body of an 18-year old girl, Natalie Hanson (Kelsey Chow). Lambert notices that Natalie is not wearing any shoes and isn't dressed in proper winter attire. The FBI is notified, and they send out rookie special agent Jane Banner (Olsen) from Las Vegas to investigate if a murder had taken place. An autopsy reveals signs of trauma and rape, and, from there, Lambert and Banner work together to uncover the truth behind Natalie's death.
The truth is, there isn't anything inherently special about Wind River's whodunit, and I doubt you'd feel any sort of static shock when you find out what is going on. The main takeaway is that Wind River raises a point, and a damn good one at that. Amidst all of the driving snow and trigger-happy violence is a fact that even the most hard-nosed liberals are likely to overlook. It almost hurts to accept what the end text tells you is true. And no, you're a damn fool if you think I'm going to spoil it for you here.
- Jeremy Renner continues to show that he has a knack for playing roles that don't rhyme with Lock My. He is effectively able to display a natural comfort that his character feels in the harsh, winter environment of the Wind River Indian Reservation. The Reservation is like his own backyard, hiking and maneuvering through it like he knows every square inch backwards and forwards. As a result, Lambert shows little to no confusion about where to go and how to handle a tense situation that easily turns violent because the movie needs it to. The cynical viewer might be bothered by Lambert having little to no trouble in unraveling the mystery, especially since his expertise is in hunting and shooting animal threats and not in solving crimes.
- The setting, the snowy and wide-open wilderness of Wind River Indian Reservation, is utilized in a way that reminded me of the success of Fargo. Fargo was another film that took place in a wintry setting, seemingly in the middle of nowhere, and that was kind of the point. Some of the craziest and most unexpected things in the world can happen in the middle of nowhere, and Wind River is taking the same sort of approach. A landscape buried in multiple inches of snow is not someone's ideal pursuit for a vacation or area of residence, but it's a location that is very capable of being the scene of the crime, just like any big, bustling city.
- Wind River is solely placed in the hands of its two main stars: Renner and Olsen. Because of this, every other character is pushed around only where the plot needs them to stick. Natalie's father, Martin (Gil Birmingham), appears in only one or two scenes, merely to scoop some more emotional distress on to the fact that his daughter has been raped and killed. The Tribal Police Chief, Ben (Graham Greene,) follows Olsen around for much of the film, doing little more than spewing nonsense to try and keep his relevance afloat. Oh yes, and he fires his gun a couple times, so he's got that going for him at least. In short, Renner and Olsen hold a duopoly on the film's supply of character development. The two are at least interesting enough to keep the film from straying towards boredom.
I'm not kidding you when I say that I did feel a chilly breeze blowing through the theater as I sat watching the film (it was just me and two other people). Maybe it was a sign that I was going to finally walk away from a Sheridan-written crime film and not just settle for saying "it's good, though I wish I liked it more" like I did with Sicario and Hell or High Water. Wind River is cold and harsh, but also mindful of its social insights. The violence only comes in small bucket loads, and it might be a little tough to stomach if you're the overly-queasy type. But aside from its violence, the film's two central characters are fleshed out enough to make the mystery worth seeing till the end. This might be one of the most underrated films of the year, which I might partially blame on the fact that Wind River was released in the back half on what has been the weakest month of the cinematic year.
Recommend? Yes. This is one of just a handful of August releases that I would recommend seeing
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