Wind River is a bleak, but beautiful film. One of the best of 2017.
So far, Wind River is the best movie of 2017 that I have never heard of. It was purely by chance that I stumbled upon this movie in theaters and I consider myself lucky for doing so. The final entry in Taylor Sheridan‘s American Frontier trilogy, following Sicario and Hell or High Water, I feel it’s safe to say Sheridan is one of the best writers working in Hollywood right now. Now he has been given the chance to direct his latest film, and with it has proven he is a man of multiple talents.
Wind River is a stoic film. It gives a sense of suffering that constantly lingers beneath the surface in every scene, most likely derived by the desolate landscape it takes place in. Set in Wyoming but shot in Utah, Wind River establishes in the very beginning that it takes a certain kind of person to live in this snowy wasteland, but it’s impossible to tell why anyone would want to. The very land itself proves to be one of the movies deadliest antagonist.
Jeremy Renner turns in his best performance to date as the lead. His character is so extraordinarily understated, and Renner manages to step perfectly into the role it seems effortless. Joining him is Elizabeth Olsen, who is always a delight to see in front of the camera. She plays an out of town FBI agent called in to help solve a murder and her aloof chemistry with the rest of the cast only serves to highlight the strength of the people who call this last frontier home. Olsen’s character is one who is out of her element, smart, but struggling in a land where one mistake will cost you your life. Her blonde hair and blue eyes proving just how different she is from the Native Americans that make up the supporting cast (all of whom are simply tremendous), still though her intentions are to help these people who are so used to being completely dismissed by the outside world.
Renner’s character ends up in the mix as a Fish and Wildlife officer, who is paid to hunt problematic animals. This time around though he is helping the FBI hunt a killer. He is a man who respects the land and, more importantly, respects the people who the land rightfully belongs to. Divorced from a woman who called the reservation home (Kelsey Asbille), Renner’s character has earned the respect of the people who still consider him part of their family. In that regard, he serves as both hunter and guide to this outsider set on doing the right thing in a world that is both complicated and simple at the same time.
Sheridan chooses to make Wind River a slow burn. Many of the scenes are simply watching characters traversing across the dreary landscape that is an ocean of white more often than not. His work has always been so character centric and he makes it clear that the Wind River reservation is very much a character in this film. Despite the sluggish pacing of the film, it manages to erupt in the third act as the Renner closes on his prey.
It’s hard to sum up Wind River. It’s an enjoyable film, but one that doesn’t exist to satisfy its audience. That isn’t to say that the pieces don’t come together beautifully in the end, but the audience is left with the feeling that this is a story that is all too common for the people of Wind River and this is one of the few times they will ever get the justice they deserve. Yet, these are people who are stronger than any of us could even imagine. People who suffer in silence, because survival in a place like this is the only thing that matters.