Wind River (2017)

Content by Tony Macklin. Originally published on August 16, 2017 @

Wind River is a powerful tale of the struggle for redemption.

It's redemption that comes on the lethal gusts of vengeful justice.

For 2/3 of its length, Wind River is a film of intelligence, sharp dialogue, and terrific, understated performances. It bristles with meaning. It's thought-provoking.

In other words, for much of its length Wind River challenges for best film of the year. Then it suddenly undergoes a drastic change of tone and method that undercuts its originality. But at the end, it regains its thoughtful equilibrium.

Wind River is set in and around the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming. The terrain is vast and blanketed with snow, and a hard snow falls in wicked sheets. Whiteness is expansive, and frigidity is in control. Place is a formidable, alienating character.

Wind River was written by Taylor Sheridan, who also wrote last year's Hell or High Water, which was one of the best films of the year - if not the best.

This time Sheridan is director of his the film based on his screenplay. It's his second stint as director. He directed the unsuccessful horror movie Vile (2012).

Wind River is the story of murder on an Indian reservation, and the people who are committed to solving it. The film plunges deep into the human condition.

As he is on his job as tracker and hunter for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Cody Lambert (Jeremy Renner) discovers the frozen remains of a murdered, young woman (Kelsey Asbille) in the snow. He knows the girl, who was the best friend of his daughter, who also was murdered in the past.

It's less contrived than it may sound. Sheridan is a master of dualities. The final shot reverberates with quiet resonance as two men sit on the ground near a swing with two empty seats. It's a beautiful finale.

Most of the film connotes personal integrity.

Cody is joined on his quest by novice FBI agent Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen), who is capable but unprepared for the forbidding locale. As the sheriff (Graham Greene) tells her, when she asks for backup, "This isn't the land of backup, Jane. This is the land of 'you're on your own.'"

Cody becomes her protector. They bond on their fateful odyssey.

Jeremy Renner has the look of one who has been through agony - his features are craggy, but his troubled gaze is clear. Despite grief, Cody still is sharpshooter par excellence. The under-6' actor at times is towering in his performance.

Elizabeth Olsen is appealing as the inexperienced FBI agent. In Wind River, Olsen is an accomplished actress, not just a celebrity.

Gil Birmingham has a key role as Martin, Cody's best friend and fellow victim. Birmingham, who was the ill-fated lawman in Hell or High Water, again gives a Sheridan character depth. In a significant scene, Martin - the "red man" - has covered his face with blue and white paint. He says, It's my death face." Lacking the red, it may suggest something about America and race.

Graham Greene brings his usual gravitas to the role of the sheriff.

Director Sheridan relies on the striking cinematography by Ben Richardson, and the music of Nick Cave and Warren Ellis.

But Wind River does have one jarring element. When Jane is on the land occupied by an oil rigging crew from a company located in Texas, she goes up to the door of a trailer. The film suddenly jolts to a flashback. The flashback and what follows are 20 minutes of over-the-top, ass-kicking, absurd violence that obliterates the thoughtful tone of what has come previously. [Welcome to the Charlottesville of filmmaking.]

It's like a different filmmaker took over. Sheridan seems to have reverted to some of his blatant tendencies exhibited in Vile.

Fortunately, at the end, the film settles back into character, dialogue, and affecting humanity.

Wind River is so good, is it fair to wish it were even better?

© 2000-2019 Tony Macklin