(Image via The Weinstein Company)
In a matter of two years, Taylor Sheridan has proved himself to be one of this generation’s greatest storytellers of modern-day westerns. He wrote the screenplay to Sicario, the thrilling and terrifying tale of the drug cartel on the US/Mexican border, an exciting and timely bank heist film in last year’s excellent Hell or High Water, and delivers a bone-chilling and heartbreaking film in Wind River, which is seen by many as a fitting end to an unofficial trilogy of films that started with Sicario. I wholeheartedly agree with that sentiment. Wind River is one of the very best films of 2017.
Cory Lambert (Jeremy Renner) is a US Fish and Wildlife agent living in the Wind River Indian Reservation in Wyoming. As he’s looking for game to hunt, he stumbles upon a body belonging to Native couple who lives on the reservation, who appears to had been beaten and raped before she was killed. The FBI sends in a young agent (Elizabeth Olsen) to investigate the matter and who Cory assists in the investigation throughout the film, but Olsen’s character soon learns that Cory (and the reservation’s police chief played by Graham Greene) is the best help she’s going to have with the case doesn’t give her a whole lot of details or help other than that. The fact that this crime took place on an Indian reservation means that the laws on the reservations differ from those on federal land.
The film opens with the title card “Inspired by true events”, but you can’t find any information on any events that actually happened in real life because the FBI does not carry statistics on missing Native American women, and the actual number of girls who go missing on reservations like the Wind River one remain a mystery. This film, and its ending, open your eyes to the realization that stories like this one aren’t just stories for films, but that young women are getting killed or going missing left and right, and nobody knows how. When that statistic (or lack thereof) flashes on the screen as a title card at the very end of this film, it’s a punch to the gut as an audience member, on top of the very heavy and emotional film that you had just seen. After the film, I immediately went back to my apartment and begun writing this review not just because I wanted to get it done as quickly as possible, but my feelings about the film are a little bit overwhelming it seems. And the effective thing about Wind River is that this is a film that will stick with you long after you leave the film, and if that’s not the sign of a really special film then I don’t know what is.
With the help of cinematographer Ben Richardson, Sheridan is able to perfectly capture to cold desolation and isolation of the reservation of the film, and how that mood is conveyed onto the characters of this film. Renner’s character has spent essentially his whole life on the reservation, and knows firsthand of what the characters are going through with this murder. It’s one of Renner’s best performances in years, and for an actor who’s spent the last few years clogged up in middling action films and superhero movies, it’s refreshing to see Renner give a performance like this one. The same can be said for Olsen (The two have co-starred in a handful of Marvel films and have a few more to go together), who essentially plays the fish-out-of-water in this story as the young FBI agent. I enjoyed their chemistry/relationship in the film, and Sheridan is smart in not having his two leads fall into the pitfalls of what this film would be like if it were made by a major studio (them falling in love throughout the film, etc.). It would’ve taken me out of the film altogether, and good on Sheridan for not falling into that easy trap.
The film has unfortunately been advertised as an action thriller of sorts, which is far from the case. There are moments in the film of shootouts, but this is by no means an action film. It’s a crime-drama, with a major emphasis on character thanks to the writing and direction of Mr. Sheridan. It’s not an easy film to sit through due to the graphic nature of how the young woman is killed in the film, but the violence never feels gratuitous to the point where it feels exploitative. I’ve seen many films where the violence is so extreme to where it takes you away from the main point of the film (sometimes intentional, other times unintentional). Sheridan hits the right mark with the violence seen in the film, but it doesn’t make it an easy film to sit through. Expect a lot of emotions during your viewing of the film.
Wind River is a powerful, emotional, and gripping neo-western from arguably the best screenwriter at this subgenre today, Taylor Sheridan. Like Sheridan’s last two films, It has an old school feel to it in the way that its made, but the subject matter is a timely one, and one that hopefully will open up a dialogue among the audience members that have gone and seen this film about this lack of information on missing women on many reservations in this country. As great as this movie was, it pains me to know that there are cases like this all over the country in reservations like Wind River, and hopefully the critical and financial success of this film will help to one day make sure there aren’t more unsolved crimes involving missing women anymore.