Wind River

An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis

Wind River

Of Wind River, the studio says “An FBI agent teams with a town’s veteran game tracker to investigate a murder that occurred on a Native American reservation.” That description is a one sentence understatement of a movie that may well be one of the best of this year.

Anyone who visits an active Indian reservation in the west or the main street of a town like Gallup, New Mexico, carries away a permanent brain imprint of what we did to the Indians by taking their land. Alcohol, sadness, and emptiness are at every turn.

Taylor Sheridan, who wrote, directed and set the story in Wyoming, shows the results of the past without sermonizing. For an hour or so he shows us the majestic beauty of snow covered mountains, woods, and flatland until we begin to wonder whether anyone could live there. Then, as he introduces the characters, we begin to understand the problems of weather and isolation on the people who do.

Cory Lambert (Jeremy Renner) is a tracker for the wildlife department. We watch him roar through the wilderness at top speed on his snowmobile (to avoid becoming stuck) in search of predatory animals who kill the smaller ones who belong there. In the silence, we watch him follow patterns and tracks of both humans and animals on land he knows so well.

Suddenly Cory comes on the dead body of Natalie (Kelsey Abile), the 18 year old daughter of his Indian friend Ben (Gil Birmingham). He offers emotional support to Ben with understanding born of losing his own daughter to the culture of emptiness some years before.

The FBI is summoned and arrives in the unexpected form of Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen), a new young agent from Las Vegas who is smart though inexperienced and looks to Cory for advice on how to find the killer. That’s it for the story.

At that point we are feeling quiet appreciation for director Taylor Sheridan’s subtle gift to us of the nature of physical isolation and the danger of the country. He then hits us with a prolonged explosion of violence. The beauty has turned to desolation; blood spreads on white snow; hatred and anger explode in an overwhelming violence of assault, rape, and battery. Thirteen people die. How did this brutality root itself in all this beauty? Suddenly, we understand this is why Sheridan spent the first hour showing us the erosive effect of isolation on people. Does isolation always breed violence?

My graphic description here is intended for people who avoid brutal violence in movies. So warned, it is rare to see a director’s vision delivered so powerfully despite one raw piece of overacting late in the film. Jeremy Renner is superb in his quietness; Elizabeth Olsen is excellent as the smart but inexperienced FBI agent; Gil Birmingham is powerful as the grieving father. You will best remember Taylor Sheridan who is a man unafraid of unleashing unvarnished historical truth.

Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Film Title : Wind River
Word Count : 502
Running time : 1:47
Rating : R
Date : August 27, 2017