Movie Reviews: “Wind River”

Screenwriter Taylor Sheridan directs his own screenplay to magnificent effect, telling a compelling story about loss and personal horror on the American frontier.

Wind River

2017; dir. Taylor Sheridan

Writer: Taylor Sheridan

Starring: Jeremy Renner, Elizabeth Olsen, Jon Bernthal and Gil Birmingham


First time director but accomplished screenwriter Taylor Sheridan finds himself within the pantheon of terrific debut filmmakers by following the amateur’s playbook to a “T;” he takes the emotionally driven core of his own story and strips it of all direct communication, allowing the viewer to gauge their own sense of closure from a story, essentially, about closure, itself.

How does a family cope with the sudden loss of their daughter? How does a man, fraught with that same tragedy years prior, handle it? How does an outsider, unaware of the customs of Native Americans, provide empathy and support in this time?

Cory Lambert (Jeremy Renner) is the reserves top game hunter. He’s tasked with hunting the beast that killed a local steer, and discovers the body of a young girl frozen in the snow. After teaming up with agent Banner (Elizabeth Olsen), he makes it his mission to avenge her death and uncover the killer.

Banner (Olsen) talks Lambert (Renner) into helping her track the killer down. Little does she know his stake in all this, and his growing respect for her resolve.

Let’s get real here for a quick second; the mystery of who killed the girl is only the surface narrative of the film. This is really a story about loss and the ways that we, as a species, handle it. From the naive and uninformed, but truthful helping hand of Agent Banner to the stoic, silent rage of Cory Lambert, everyone from different walks of life has different ways of approaching death and misery. Banner witnesses the victims mother crying inconsolably, slashing her arms in protest, and is left speechless. The local sheriff, knowing she’s doing this, only mutters a vague “don’t,” and is unable to look at her after witnessing it.

Even the father, Martin (skillfully played by Gil Birmingham) displays a vein of subdued but virulent disposition at agent Banner’s presence and inquisition, yet opens the door to Cory and is incapable of holding his pain back. Is it out of respect, or knowledge that he finally understands the feeling of loss? Perhaps it’s both, and even though the murder is the driving force of our character’s story, the mythology focuses almost entirely on the growth of our characters within its wake.

Martin (Birmingham) reacts with contempt to agent Banner’s (Olsen) very presence.

At no point are we confused by what we see, nor is the murder itself any sort of mystery; a proper flashback gives us everything we need to know about how it all came to be, perfectly synchronous with the film’s “OK Corral shootout.”

Some turn within themselves, some reach out to others.

Some become addicted to drugs, while some turn to alcohol for release.

Some go mad from the combination of things and lose control.

Some even forget that there’s a world outside of this desolate bubble.

Cory (Renner) sits with Martin (Birmingham) for the films epilogue.

During the film’s epilogue, Cory meets with Martin sitting outside his home, adorned with tribal paint. We are to assume this is some Native American ritual, to display oneself with war paint to commemorate the loss of a loved one. Yet, he confesses to Cory that he has no idea what the paint even symbolizes anymore – it’s just something from his culture he thought was appropriate for the situation. The modern state of Native American culture has been so utterly devastated by the white man that even the most ardent of its tribesmen don’t even understand the significance of their own heritage.

No one handles death particularly “well,” but life on the last American frontier is harder than anywhere else in United States. On those desolate fields, a murder can go unsolved because there’s no evidence to support a declaration of homicide. Federal law can take weeks to even arrive on scene, even longer to process evidence. By then, another Native American girl will have gone missing, and the cycle continues.

Unlike other “based on a true story” type films to come out this year,¬†Wind River is a film that isn’t afraid to display the horror of mankind, while still offering valuable insight into how we can take meaningful strides against it.

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