Taylor Sheridan's WIND RIVER
Movie review by Dennis D. McDonald
Written and directed by the writer of Hell or High Water, Wind River transports the viewer to a wintry contemporary Wyoming where American Indians and whites live uncomfortably side-by-side. A state employed hunter-tracker follows a bloodstained track across the snow and finds the frozen corpse of a young woman. The FBI is called in to investigate the death. The agent is from Las Vegas and inexperienced in such matters. She recruits the tracker to help. Thus the investigation begins.
On paper Wind River sounds like a "small" movie while being large in physical and emotional scope. Backstories gradually play out: divorces, dead children, dead-ends, drug abuse, and prison. All unspool gradually against the backdrop of the centuries old tug-of-war between reservation Indians and the Federal government.
The frame for all is the Wyoming winter with its snow, mountains, guns, wild animals, and dependence on snowmobiles for off-road transportation.
Jeremy Renner as the hunter-tracker is recruited to assist Elizabeth Olsen's inexperienced FBI agent in the investigation. He's a good man with pain in his past. That pain informs his decision to pursue justice. People who only know Renner as a Marvel superhero may be pleasantly surprised at the depth of his performance here. He plays a competent outdoorsman who calmly loads his own ammo at home. I thought him most impressive in scenes where he talks seriously one-on-one with other characters. We used to call this role a "strong and silent" type. Renner does a very good job.
The movie is well populated with many characters who manage to express a lot in even small screen time. I attribute this at least partly to the director also being the writer who has total mastery, control, and understanding of his characters.
There is action in the film, not a lot, but when it comes it's tense, shocking, and hair-raising.
I'd like to think that Wind River is a good example of a serious, adult, and "small" film that does not pander but manages to present a strong story populated by believable characters. What comes to mind is making a comparable impression is Jennifer Lawrence's breakout film Winter's Bone. But I'm not sure how "small" Wind River really is. It's a landscape dominated film with many helicopter based tracking shots and much outdoor filming that must have been repeatedly impacted by the vagaries of weather and the need to match sun, snow, and cloud conditions from scene to scene.
There are a surprising number of special-effects technicians listed in the credits, despite what looks like a completely natural film. Also, the film supposedly takes place in Wyoming but the state of Utah features prominently in the credits. Having been to Wyoming I thought that's where I was but, hey, this is Hollywood.
Despite the focus on story and character, Wind River is a good film to see in a theater on a large screen. You really do get a sense of wide open spaces as you watch tiny snowmobiles traverse wide expanses of white as the chase progresses.
Review copyright (c) 2017 by Dennis D. McDonald.