Wednesday, August 02, 2017

“Wind River”– Movie Review


This week, I attended a New York Times Film Club screening of the new crime drama “Wind River” starring Jeremy Renner and Elizabeth Olsen.


When a rookie FBI Agent is assigned to investigate a murder on a Native American Reservation, will a local hunter be able to help her solve the crime?


Winters in Wyoming are particularly brutal.  No one knows this better than game tracker Cory Lambert (Renner), a lifetime resident.  One day, he’s summoned to Wind River, the location of an Indian Reservation, where he’s asked to rid the community of a family of mountain lions which have been attacking (and in some cases killing) the steer that belong to the farmers there.  While following the paw prints of some animals, he happens upon an unexpected and unpleasant surprise:  the body of a young woman who has apparently died deep in the woods. 

After contacting the authorities, Lambert is introduced to Jane Banner (Olsen), a young FBI Agent who has been dispatched to look into the matter.  Before long, it is evident to all that her inexperience has her out of her depth.  Despite Banner’s severe disadvantage, she dutifully meets with the county Medical Examiner; after performing an autopsy on the deceased – an 18 year old, whose name was Natalie – the doctor informs Banner that although the woman appears to have been raped and badly beaten, her cause of death was actually exposure to the cold. 

Learning that Natalie’s boyfriend belonged to a crew of roughnecks working at an oil drilling site, Banner – joined by the local sheriff and his deputies – ventures out to the rig to ask some questions of the men there.  Panicking as they anticpate an imminent arrest, the roughnecks exchange gunfire with Banner, the sheriff and his men.  Banner is badly hurt and must be medevac'd out; when she tells Lambert that one of the roughnecks got away, he begins pursuit.  But can even a skilled hunter like Lambert find his prey in the vast snowy mountains of Wyoming?    


Almost exactly one year ago, this Web site reviewed the movie “Hell Or High Water”; its screenplay went on to be nominated for both a Golden Globe and an Academy Award.  The writer of that screenplay was Taylor Sheridan, who both wrote and directed “Wind River”.  While this is not the first time he’s directed a film, it does mark the first time that Sheridan has directed his own screenplay.  It’s an impressive start for an aspiring auteur.  “Wind River” is both visually and dramatically a top-notch crime drama with solid action – some of which contains rather brutal violence (be warned).

Many of the same qualities that made “Hell Or High Water” such a compelling movie are visible in “Wind River” as well.  This well-crafted screenplay is buttressed by some fine acting from both Renner and Olsen, as well as Sheridan’s own directing.  He has chosen images that tell the story perfectly; in particular, the opening scene with Lambert where we see him protect a herd of sheep from a predatory pack of wolves.  It tells us exactly who Lambert is – both professionally and personally – as well as sets us up for the savage nature of the story. 

If there is a criticism about “Wind River”, it would be that late in its third act, it almost seems to be in a rush to fill in the gaps in its story so that viewers will fully comprehend the truth about what happened leading up to Natalie’s death.  On balance, while it does make the story more satisfying once we have this information, perhaps it might have been better to layer a bit at a time throughout the movie, with the big reveal coming at the end.  Granted, this might be quibbling on an otherwise deft script, which, we are told, was inspired by true events; its epilogue informs us that crimes regarding missing Native American women go severely underreported to the authorities.     

Wind River (2017) on IMDb

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