“While missing person statistics are compiled for every other demographic, none exist for Native American women,” states the closing text of Wind River, a haunting and powerful film from director Taylor Sheridan (Sicario, Hell or High Water).
Set in Wyoming’s Wind River Indian Reservation, Wind River is a sombre tale that explores hunters of all kinds.
What Is Wind River About?
Corey Lambert (Jeremy Renner, Mayor of Kingstown) is a professional hunter who works for the Fish and Wildlife Services to protect livestock and inhabitants from natural threats.
The harsh Wyoming winter is replete with wolves and even mountain lions. Yet as Lambert is all too aware, young women are also the subject of dangerous threats.
A feeling of forgotten wilderness pervades Wind River throughout. The tone is set immediately as a spoken word poem narrates a series of bitterly cold landscapes at night, only for the tranquillity to be broken by a barefoot young woman running in fear across the icy snow before succumbing to the cold.
The camera pulls back to take in the wider setting before narrowing to its downbeat cast, but the sense continues that everything about this environment is hostile.
Whilst the Tribal Police are not hostile, the resigned acceptance from understaffed Chief Ben Shoyo (Graham Greene) highlights that this is not an uncommon occurrence.
Renner fills his character to the brim but in a masterfully contained way. The case reminds him of the passing of his daughter, and his understated stoic performance underpins a thriller filled with crafted character work.
Such a death requires an FBI investigation so cue very underprepared rookie Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen). Sheridan uses Olsen to criticise bureaucratic red tape – without a homicide ruling on the death certificate further resources will not be allocated – and as an outsider viewpoint to act as an in for the audience.
Olsen’s determination and vulnerability plays off against Renner’s quiet expertise as he assists her investigation in a town where people don’t expect to be heard.
Wind River Official Trailer
Is Wind River Worth Watching?
As so much of the film is a tense and muted affair, the occasional explosions of gun violence stand out as shocking, perhaps bordering on the unbelievable.
As one visit to follow up on a lead culminates in a shootout the sudden ramp up of danger threatens to derail the film.
Come the last act this overspilling of tension makes a little more sense, although a lack of insight into the minds of those involved perhaps make such a choice hard to follow.
Notwithstanding the use of straw men characters to advance an important message, Wind River wraps up its own example (which isn’t based on an actual true case, despite the opening text) with a satisfying piece both narratively and for the characters.
That such a conclusion is unlikely to play out in real life makes the satisfaction of seeing it in film all the more so.
Wind River is a beautiful and pensive thriller that will linger long in the mind.
Kelsey Asbille’s portrayal of the ultimate victim is all the more haunting for how disproportionately young Native American women simply trying to live a normal life can too frequently find it cut short.
As the frozen winter gives way to Spring, record those who did not emerge and fight for the others to stay in the light.
Words by Mike Record
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