REVIEW: Wind River (2017)

Theatrical Release Poster – The Weinstein Company

The following is a review of Wind River – Written and Directed by Taylor Sheridan.

When Taylor Sheridan gets one of his screenplays made, you pay attention. The first two films in his so-called ‘frontier trilogy’ — Denis Villeneuve’s Sicario and David Mackenzie’s Hell or High Water — were amazing films that both ended up on my top ten films of the year lists in 2015 and 2016 respectively. And although Sheridan’s presumably last film in his frontier trilogy — Wind River, the first in the trilogy that he has directed himself — won’t be among my ten favorites of 2017, this modern western is still one hell of a movie.

Taylor Sheridan’s Wind River takes place during winter in Wyoming — more specifically the Wind River Indian Reservation — where U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service agent Cory Lambert has found the frozen lifeless body of a teenage girl from the local community. When the federal agent sent to investigate whether or not this is a homicide turns out to be somewhat of a greenhorn, Lambert is recruited by the aforementioned rookie FBI agent — Jane Banner (played by Elizabeth Olsen) — to guide her in dealing with the local community and tracking down those responsible for the girl’s death.

Just like Sicario and Hell or High Water, Wind River is another impressively effective location-based modern western. Snowy Wyoming looks fantastic, but it is more than that. The effects of the gloriously harsh, cold winter of Wyoming pervades the entirety of the 111 minute runtime. The locals are uniquely impacted by the coarse nature of the environment and community. Pessimism is everywhere, in a part of the country where the voiceless’ absence does not even make waves to anyone but the local community members. Cory Lambert knows that first-hand, as he, himself, lost a daughter in a similar way that this new girl may have lost her own life.

There is this excellent monologue at the end of Wind River, in which a character almost sums up Sheridan’s frontier trilogy with the line: “Luck don’t live out here.” There is a focus towards the end of the film on the strength to survive, which is paramount if one is to overcome the harsh realities of frontier-lands where wilderness still rules, and where civility is often absent.

Wind River is fantastic in the way it represents those realities and the local community of such a place. From my perspective, the attention paid to the Native American Community was rather respectful, even though I do have issues with who gets to bridge the gap between the ideas of an out-of-towner and the realities of the wilderness. You see, for me I think Cory Lambert as a character, though a great hero, is fairly problematic. He is only once called out on the fact that he is a white man embracing Native American culture, when it is not necessarily his to claim. I think an argument can be made that this film suffers from the white savior complex-trope, in that Lambert is of such a strength and build that he, a white man married into a Native American family, essentially becomes the ideal hunter in the indian reservation, as well as somewhat of a spiritual guide, albeit a damaged one, to strong Native Americans in the local community.

I did have one other issue with the characterizations in Wind River. Although Elizabeth Olsen is very good as FBI agent Jane Banner — she does what she is called upon to do — I thought it was an odd choice to have her character be not just new to the field and a ‘stranger in a strange land,’ but also almost unskilled in her job. Lambert is always right all of the time, and she is almost always one step behind him. I did not respond well that. Having said all of that, and acknowledged those issues, I have to just say that while those issues may tarnish the film slightly, I do not think it ruins what is ultimately a magnificent cold, murder mystery-revenge thriller.

The film looks fantastic, it has a great score that is perfectly appropriate for the location, and some rather intense and upsetting scenes in the third act. This, like the other two frontier trilogy films, is a great western for the modern age. I also just have to give Jeremy Renner a lot of credit. This is an actor who — in spite of his Best Actor Academy Award nomination for The Hurt Locker — has come to be known primarily as an ensemble actor. Renner is often the unsung hero in the Marvel-films, and in films like American Hustle or The Town his is but a supporting character. But in Wind River, Jeremy Renner makes a strong and sound argument that he should be considered for more. Jeremy Renner, quite simply, has never been better.

8.5 out of 10

– Jeffrey Rex

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