When the body of a dead girl is found in the snowy Wyoming Native American reservation, out of town FBI agent, Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen) teams up with the town’s veteran game tracker, Cory Lambert (Jeremy Renner) to investigate the murder.
If there’s one thing to take away from this films it’s its realism. Much like last year’s Manchester by the Sea, there are many times where you feel like the interactions you’re seeing are out of everyday life. But where as Manchester kept us at an at-home family drama Wind River is a mystery story in a setting unfamiliar to many. Having gone through the occasional mystery craving, I can safely say that mystery movies are very easy to screw up, often times working in some nonsensical plot points. But Wind River infuses its realism with its mystery. It feels natural. It never tries to throw in some random convoluted twist. It sticks to the bare facts and clues and they follow it from there. With that, the struggles feel natural. There is no asshole boss or an explicit bad guy trying to damper the case aside from the assailants they are trying to track down. In the wrong hands, this could have very easily turned into a buddy cop drama. And sure, Cory and Jane have their differences but at no point are they ever strictly at odds with each other. The same goes with the supporting characters they interact with. We don’t get any characters they are completely hostile or completely friendly with. Even when moments of violence come up they burst onto the screen like a Falcon Punch because that’s exactly how these kinda of surprises would feel like in real life. No preamble of suspenseful music or warning of a tonal change, just raw energy.
“Wind River isn’t a film that minces words. It gives the grisly details that it thrives upon because, as the movie says at one point, “You can’t steer from the pain or you’ll rob yourself.” It’s a wonderful character driven story that doesn’t skimp when it comes to plot. ”
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Given its setting, this is a movie that needed to feel like it has at least some connection to its culture. The topic of the Native Americans who still live there, as well as the harsh environment and terrain, are brought up multiple times and it always feels sincere about these topics. There is clearly a lot of empathy for people who struggle with the problems portrayed. It’s been a while since I’ve seen a film that so effectively got you to feel its environment. Maybe I was just in a cold screening but the snowy landscape came alive to me as well. We get a lot of calm pastoral moments with nature that all make for an engrossing experience. Even during the more energized shoot out scenes, the camera really knows how to get you feeling like you’re there experiencing it. Much of that praise goes to writer/director Taylor Sheridan who has used his previous two films Sicario and Hell or High Water to create this “American Frontier” trilogy.
The movie isn’t totally without its flaws however. As stated, this movie works in some of the Native American heritage and naturally a few moments talking about the culture run the risk of being preachy. One particularly painful scene features a character cutting themselves in a state of despondency. Heartbreaking, right? Even more heartbreaking is that no one even tries to stop them from hurting themselves. They play it off sort of like “What’s the point? This is our life.” Also here and there some line readings are a particularly low to the point that I wanted subtitles on the screen to understand. Some people may not gravitate toward the pensive tone but I do think there are just enough moments of levity to keep it from becoming monotonous.
Wind River isn’t a film that minces words. It gives the grisly details that it thrives upon because, as the movie says at one point, “You can’t steer from the pain or you’ll rob yourself.” It’s a wonderful character driven story that doesn’t skimp when it comes to plot.
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Cameron Metrejean — an actor, writer and film critic who loves to review films through the lens of an actor.
Cameron Metrejean is a local actor, film critic, writer and jack of all trades. You will find him around town in front of the lens and behind.
He is a passionate cinephile with a unique voice forged through industry experience.
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