Wind River

Release: Friday, August 18, 2017


Written by: Taylor Sheridan

Directed by: Taylor Sheridan

Wind River is a haunting little crime thriller that creeps into your soul and nestles there. It’s brought to you by the writer of Sicario and last year’s Oscar-nominated Hell or High Water, which may tell you everything you need to know about this movie, based on true events about a tracker working for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services who teams up with a rookie FBI agent to investigate the strange circumstances surrounding the death of a young Native American woman.

The journeyman actor-turned-screenwriter trades the scorching temperatures of the southern U.S. for the bitter chill of wintry Wyoming. Tumbleweeds for evergreens; cowboy hats for furry down jackets. The harsh terrain changes but Sheridan, who has proven his worth in a very limited amount of time, fortunately does not. He remains committed to the same gritty, humanistic perspective that has helped identify him as among the most powerful emergent voices in Hollywood.

As we have come to be spoiled by the writer-director, certain things are givens: impeccable acting, complex morality, sympathetic tonality. Wind River operates most apparently as a straightforward police procedural but that’s just the part of the iceberg that’s visible. What the screenplay hides beneath the surface is where the film is at its most affecting, not just as a deeply nuanced exploration of personal grief but as damning evidence of the marginalization of Native Americans.

Wind River tells a story about fictional people; however, as a title card at the end of the film suggests, this could be the story of any one of the thousands, possibly hundreds of thousands of women who have disappeared from Indian reservations across the country. As of today, it is not known how many Native American women go missing or what even becomes of them, as they remain the only demographic for which the U.S. Department of Justice does not compile that data.

While Kelsey Asbille as the victim — a teenaged resident named Natalie — provides a face to these unknowns, Jeremy Renner proves once again to be a major comfort. He injects warmth into an environment characterized by precisely the opposite. His Cory Lambert has earned the trust and respect of many of the residents of Wind River, a plot of land in central-western Wyoming home to members of the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho tribes. Cory’s dedicated years to protecting them and their livestock from the predatory animals that roam this yawning expanse of pillowy hills and knife-edge ridges. Of course, he has done this at the expense of his own family, a familiar but still effective flaw of character that grafts perfectly with the film’s thematic explorations.

Cory’s commitment to the community deepens when FBI Special Agent Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen) shows up on the scene, determined to take control of what appears to her to be a sexual assault case. Her woeful unpreparedness for the conditions, though initially played off as broadly humorous, ultimately proves to be the first of many obstacles that will truly test her resolve. Gender dynamics come into play as Banner has something to prove as an outsider in this world. Olsen plays her hand perfectly, her sizable ego soon humbled by taking bullets in subzero temperatures and by listening to the stories of the people who call this frozen hell home.

Renner is reliable and Olsen makes for interesting company, but you cannot overlook Gil Birmingham, who re-teams with Sheridan after playing the butt of every Jeff Bridges joke in Hell or High Water. That’s in stark contrast to his brief but dramatically hefty role here, in which he portrays the victim’s father as a man consumed by grief. An early scene in which Banner is cringingly unaware of her aggressive style confesses to the delicate nature of her assignment. It’s a traumatic moment, with Birmingham’s not-so-quiet sobbing memorably given privacy by remaining just out of shot.

The locals call Wind River the “land of you’re on your own.” That’s a harsh lesson for Banner to have to take back with her to Las Vegas, but for everyone else it’s just a fact of life. As a boy who grew up on a ranch before his family lost it to the economic downturn of the 1990s, Sheridan has a pretty firm grasp on man’s relationship with mother nature and how tenuous a relationship it is. That manifests powerfully here as well, but Wind River evolves into something much more personal and even profound than a tale of survival. That old Darwinian theory is a byproduct of the story, but it’s not the story.

Wind River is about being found, being recognized. Being heard. And the heavy sigh in which the film ends echoes back decades of silence. The kind of silence that kills, by madness or by wolf, by pulmonary edema or just plain-old ignorance.

Recommendation: Taylor Sheridan rewards viewers once again with an absorbing, emotionally stirring and deeply disturbing crime drama based on real events. Both a tribute to the untold number of victims as well as a culture that has had indignity upon indignity heaped upon it since the appearance of Anglo-American settlers, Wind River feels especially timely if you take into consideration recent headlines, such as those involving the Standing Rock Sioux tribe and their continued battle against the Dakota Access Pipeline

Rated: R

Running Time: 107 mins.

Quoted: “I’d like to tell you it gets easier, but it doesn’t. If there’s a comfort, you get used to the pain if you let yourself. I went to a grief seminar in Casper. Don’t know why, just . . it hurt so much, I was searching for anything that could make it go away. That’s what I wanted this seminar to do, make it go away. The instructor comes up to me after the seminar was over, sat beside me and said, ‘I got good news and bad news. Bad news is you’ll never be the same. You’ll never be whole. Ever. What was taken from you can’t be replaced. Your daughter’s gone. Now the good news: as soon as you accept that, as soon as you let yourself suffer, allow yourself to grieve, you’ll be able to visit her in your mind, and remember all the joy she gave you. All the love she knew. Right now, you don’t even have that, do you?’ He said, ‘that’s what not accepting this will rob from you.’ If you shy from the pain of it, then you rob yourself of every memory of her, my friend. Every one. From her first step to her last smile. You’ll kill ’em all. Take the pain. Take the pain, Martin. It’s the only way to keep her with you.”

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13 thoughts on “Wind River

  1. Glad I snapped out of my funk and am now reading my go to blogs again. This is awesomely written as always mate. Echoes a lot of what I wrote I think. Taylor is just on a role – another thing he does well is shoot-outs – when they happen they come out of nowhere and they are usually pretty brutal. The one or two action scenes in this are pretty damned great.

    I was surprised by how much I liked Renner too. Apart from his bit in The Immigrant, I haven’t seen anything with him in it that stood out.

    That stat about native american women shocked me when I saw this. A very… sobering way to end the film. I love it when a movie doesn’t give a shit about a happy ending.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s really good to see you back around here Jordan! Thomas J has missed your input. 🙂

      Wind River is a really personal experience. I thought it was a great breakdown of the way we process grief, but I’ve read other reviews that have taken other things away from it as well.

      Renner continues to be a reliable and IMO highly underrated actor who provides so much humanity to roles that aren’t quite as flashy as anything he’s done in the MCU.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Cheers bro! I injured my ribs badly at jiu jitsu, it sent me into a massive depressive funk, could barely leave my bedroom for nearly two months. Snapped out of it finally!

        I agree, there is a lot to take from Wind River. I can’t get enough of the score. Cave and Ellis just kill it every time.

        I need to see more Renner. Haven’t seen him a lot so I can’t really make a proper judgement, but he kills in this one


    • Gotta admit though that the timing of the release was perhaps the film’s biggest flaw. Why it came out when it did is beyond me


  2. Pingback: Month in Review: September ’17 | Thomas J

    • Definitely track it down. It’s so well performed and the emotions at the core are so fully realized. It can be a painful experience for sure. I loved it though.


  3. I found the location as much of a character as the main characters itself. And I can’t recall Renner being much better than he is here.

    Little bit of a agonizingly slow setup, but it kicks into gear once Gil comes into the frame. Very excited to see Sheridan’s next directorial chapter.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I didn’t have much of an issue with pacing here. To me it was constantly absorbing because of the characters. And yeah, I think it’s gotta be up there with Renner’s best. He is a deeply flawed character here too. I enjoy seeing this guy get to take the lead. He’s really likable.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Haven’t seen this yet, will have to wait for the disc release (this had an extremely short cinema release here) but I did buy the soundtrack. Haunting music which just makes me want to see the film all the more. And your review just added to my sense of impatience. Do you think it should have been released later in the year? A serious, quality film like this shouldn’t get lost in the late-summer multiplex chaos of blockbusters.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You’re right on man. I am really surprised at the awkward release of this movie. It would seem to slot perfectly in early/late November. Or at least at some point wherein people are actually thinking about winter lol.

      Sheridan’s name carries a lot of weight, so here’s to hoping it’s still remembered in about 4 months. I know I will remember it. One of my favorites of the year.


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