THE WEINSTEIN COMPANY (2017)
Director: Taylor Sheridan
Starring: Jeremy Renner, Elizabeth Olsen, Gil Birmingham, Jon Bernthal, Graham Greene, Kelsey Chow
There are no official statistics on missing Native American women.
The denouement of Wind River informs us of this impressively shocking fact, and the movie that preceded the fact does a job of highlighting the plight of Native Americans – their lack of governance, utter isolation and, at times, desperation. Set in the snowy ranges and mountains of Wyoming, it’s an impressive looking beast but one that is lacking in soul and misses the required target – but not by much.
In the freezing snow, miles from anywhere, a young girl, Natalie (Chow), has been found dead. Ravaged by frostbite, without shoes and unprepared for the conditions, her attire shows signs of assault – in particular, rape. Her body is found by Wildlife Officer Cory Lambert (Renner) and he immediately informs the authorities, who in turn respond by sending rookie FBI agent Jane Banner (Olsen). She too is underprepared and under-dressed for the conditions, borrowing heavy winter clothes from a bemused local before the investigation begins. Kicking things off, Lambert visits Natalie’s grieving parent’s house, finding a mother that has become reliant on self-harm and a mourning father, Martin (Birmingham), who too is struggling to cope. Lambert coldly informs him he will deal retribution to whoever was involved in his daughter’s death.
When the resulting autopsy reveals the cause of death as pulmonary haemorrhage and not murder, Olsen begins to realise that things are done…differently in this neck of the woods. Refusing to leave, she insists on assisting the tribal police chief Ben (Greene) and Lambert in the investigation that leads them to dingy, desolate lodgings where the residents suffer from their surroundings and, eventually, to the shocking discovery of what really happened to Natalie - and her apparently missing boyfriend Matt (Bernthal).
Wind River covers a lot in its relatively tight runtime of 107 minutes – the aforementioned governance of Native Americans, drug abuse, family bereavements and social effects from the shut-off surroundings. It’s not what could be classed as a feel-good or uplifting movie. It’s fairly matter-of-fact in its approach. It sheds light on how the Native Americans are viewed – when a murder has been committed, the FBI responds by sending a fresh-faced agent totally out of her depth. The authorities deal with local autopsies efficiently and underhandedly in order to keep the FBI away. Locals fall prey to drugs and booze as according to them, there is nothing else for them in the harsh, white tundra. What the movie falls down on, though, is its depiction of Native Americans and the way they are used, or in this case, not used. They are given no agency and instead it’s up to Lambert to save the day. On that note, Olsen, too, is relegated to the sidelines in order to keep the image of Lambert prevalent – her naïve agent could’ve had a good story to follow (see Jodie Foster in Silence of the Lambs) however this was frustratingly not followed through. There is a shot of her in tiny pants though, which was obviously necessary to drive the story forward. That was sarcasm, by the way.
In the case of Lambert, Renner gives a solid performance and shows that when he rids himself of the shackles of comic book movies, he can deliver genuinely decent performances. He walked the fine line of sympathetic lead and generic action hero, falling just on the right side. However, the way in which his character was utilised wasn’t great – infallible sharpshooter, leading the FBI and police investigation, delivering life speeches to grieving parents – something was off regarding the characterisation, which is no fault of Renner’s. Mentions to Gil Birmingham and Graham Greene for their great performances, anchoring the movie with heft and emotion.
DoP Ben Richardson delivers a movie that looks chilling and vast, you’ll feel the ice and snow whilst watching this. Making great use of long and wide shots, he manages to capture the natural beauty of the terrain brilliantly. The snow itself plays a pivotal part in the movie, it is both friend and foe – tracks left can lead to a crime scene or it can cruelly erase hope when the fall is heavy. Where the characterisations may not have been spot on, Taylor Sheridan sure does script and deliver good action scenes – the gun fights and stand-offs were loaded with tension and authenticity and proved to one of the highlights of the movie.
The movie doesn’t shy away from attempting emotional gut punches. The story revolves around the rape and assault of a young woman and her desperate, tragic attempts at escape and survival. This, in turn, leads down a darker path, with said offences given screen time in a devastating flashback. Character backstories are littered with pain and tragedy, there’s not a lot to cling to that is inspiring at all. The ending, however, was deliciously satisfying.
Wind River is an ample drama that starts slowly and only revs up in its last 25 minutes. There is plenty to admire in the movie, however the depiction of the lone heroic male brings the movie down a notch. Why? Because there were so many interesting paths to take that this seemed to be too…easy. Whilst showcasing plenty of socio-political points, none are really given any great substance – if anything, the movie should potentially have had a longer runtime to greater explore these. That said, Wind River is a decent movie with plenty of positives to be found, it just could’ve been much more.
September 7th 2017